Is this Muslim the most popular man in France now?
Lassana Bathily saved more than a dozen people at the Hyper Cacher grocery store when a gunman entered the store last week. Today, France granted the Muslim Mali immigrant full citizenship for his heroism.
Lassana Bathily had lived as a Muslim migrant worker in France since 2006, and Jan. 9 started like any other day for him at his job at the Hyper Cacher market, a kosher store in Paris.
But by the end of last Friday, the native of Mali was thrust into the French national spotlight for saving at least a dozen people after Amedy Coulibaly stormed into the market and took hostages, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Bathily's heroism was rewarded Thursday when France's Interior Minister announced that he would be granted full French citizenship from a grateful nation.
When the gunman entered the store, and opened fire, killing four customers, Bathily rushed a group of more than a dozen shoppers (including seven Jews) into the basement of the grocery store and hid them in a walk-in freezer to keep them safe.
Later, France’s latest hero then risked his own life by slipping out of the store via a fire escape to notify police. According to the Washington Post, he tried to convince shoppers to come with him but they feared that all of the people moving from the freezer might have alerted the gunman, Coulibaly. Initially, after his escape, French law enforcement forced him to lie on the ground out of fear he was working with the gunman, according to the Post report. After he convinced the police he was an employee of the grocery store, Bathily was able to tell the police where the hostages were in the store and gave them the key to the store’s metal blinds - which had been drawn by the gunman.
He filled in authorities about the lay out of the grocery story. According to the Washington Post, that information and the key he provided them allowed the police to storm through the front of the store and save the remaining hostages.
As a result of his actions, more than 300,000 French citizens signed change.org a petition requesting the government extend citizenship to Bathily. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to a Parisian synagogue on Sunday night, “I want to express my appreciation to the Mali citizen who helped save seven Jews.”
Bathily has downplayed all of the hero hype and told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) in an interview, "Yes, I aided Jews. We're brothers. It's not a question of Jews, Christians, or Muslims. We're all in the same boat. We need to help each other to get out of this crisis."
According to the AFP, Bathily applied for his French citizenship last July, and he will be recognized in national ceremony on next Tuesday.