What should have been an average workday for 24-year-old Malian, Lassana Bathily, an employee of a Parisian kosher supermarket, turned into a hostage nightmare that shook the world just days after one of the deadliest attacks in France in decades.
On Friday, Jan. 9, Bathily, a practicing Muslim, went far beyond his daily responsibilities as a shopkeeper. He courageously aided law enforcement and store patrons through one of two simultaneous standoffs.
His actions inspired a Change.org petition, which compiled more than 300,000 signatures, calling for him to be granted French citizenship and the Legion of Honor. French officials agreed.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve declared Bathily a “hero” and announced that the country would expedite his citizenship and naturalize him next Tuesday for his “bravery.”
Bathily came to customers’ aid that fateful Friday, when attacker Amed Coulibaly stormed into the busy Hyper Cache as shoppers prepared for the Sabbath. The gunman threatened to kill the hostages if the police didn’t release brothers Säid Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, the men responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack who were, at the time, engaged in a separate hostage standoff in the French countryside.
Bathily valiantly guided costumers into a cold-storage space for protection, turned off the refrigeration, and fled the shop to notify the French police of the heist.
“I opened the door to the fridge and rushed some of the shoppers inside,” Bathily told French news channel BFMTV. “Then I turned off the light, and closed the door behind us. I told them to stay calm — and then I went back out.”
Initially the police considered him a suspect and handcuffed him for an hour and a half, he told BFMTV. Bathily was eventually able to convince police that he was not an accomplice, but an employee who could aid in the unnerving standoff.
With his knowledge of the store, he provided authorities with critical information about the layout and location of the hostages. Despite their collaborative efforts, four customers were killed that day. Nevertheless, Bathily emerged as the heroic civilian during 54 hours of violence that wracked the nation.
With France now experiencing heightened Islamophobia and anti-Semitism after the attacks, Bathily said he was not phased by some of the divisiveness.
“We’re brothers. It’s not a question of Jews, Christians or Muslims,” Bathily declared. “We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help one another to get out of this crisis.”