Lassana Bathily, the Malian Muslim employee who helped save the lives of several customers during last week’s deadly attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris, will be awarded French nationality, France’s Interior Bernard Cazeneuve announced Thursday.
In a statement applauding Bathily’s “act of bravery,” Cazeneuve said that the young man will become a French citizen during a ceremony on January 20.
The move comes following an outpouring of public support for Bathily, whose striking story of courage trickled out in the days after the hostage crisis at the Hyper Casher supermarket in eastern Paris.
The 24-year-old shop assistant was in the underground stockroom on Friday when gunman Amédy Coulibaly burst in upstairs, firing from a Kalashnikov.
“When he (the gunman) entered the store, people came rushing down saying there was an armed madman,” Bathily told FRANCE 24. “I thought the only option was to hide in the freezer, so I switched it off and got everyone inside.”
Bathily, who arrived in France at the age of 16 in 2006, said he tried to persuade some to follow him as he sneaked out of the building using a goods lift, but they were too scared to move.
“I knew the emergency exits so I took my chance, but if the gunman had seen me I would have been dead,” he said.
As he walked towards police with his hands up, Bathily was mistaken for the attacker, forced to the ground and hand-cuffed for over an hour.
Once police realised their mistake, he provided them with a key to open the supermarket’s metal blinds to mount their assault.
Coulibaly, a Frenchman of Malian origin, was killed in the ensuing firefight with police, who also found four hostages dead inside the supermarket, apparently shot by the gunman when he entered the store.
Police sources have corroborated Bathily’s account of the siege.