Lassana Bathily, hero from Paris grocery store attack, gets French citizenship
24-year-old from Mali credited with saving lives during Jan. 9 attack on kosher store
The Malian grocery worker hailed as a hero for saving hostages' lives when an Islamist militant attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris this month was made a French citizen on Tuesday.
Lassana Bathily, 24, was joined by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Prime Minister Manuel Valls in a packed naturalization ceremony.
"I am so happy to get dual nationality," said a smiling Bathily, who also received a medal for his actions. "Long live freedom, long live solidarity, long live France."
Bathily, who arrived in France from Mali in 2006 and received his working papers five years later, has been credited with saving many lives in the Jan. 9 attack that killed four people at the kosher store in eastern Paris. Previous militant attacks that week killed 13 others, most of them at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper.
Hailed by Cazeneuve and Valls as a model of decency and Republican values, Bathily tried for years to obtain French nationality and was even turned down in 2011 before he was handed his passport by Valls.
The inventory worker was in a storage room in the rear of the market when Amedy Coulibaly, the Islamist militant later killed by police, burst into the store.
"When I heard the gunshots I saw a lot of people running ... saying 'Help, help, they're here, the killers, they've come into the store!'" Bathily told BFM-TV in an interview last week.
Bathily, who had worked at the store for four years, ushered the panicked shoppers into a cold storage room where they waited out the attack. He said he tried to convince the others to escape by an elevator, but they were concerned its noise would alert Coulibaly to their presence.
Courting that risk himself, Bathily fled the store and was promptly handcuffed by police, who interrogated him for an hour and a half, he said.
After finally convincing them that he was a store employee, Bathily described the layout of the market to police to help them prepare their raid.
Bathily, a practising Muslim who prayed in a back room of the Jewish market during his breaks, told BFM-TV it was perfectly normal to have helped the way he did.
"Yes, I helped Jews get out. We're brothers," he said. "It's not that we're Jewish or Christian or Muslims, we're all in the same boat. You help so you can get through this attack."