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Malian Who Saved Lives in Kosher Grocery Attack Gets French Citizenship


Malian Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee who helped Jewish shoppers hide in a cold storage room from an islamist gunman during the Jan. 9, 2015 attack, is pictured in Paris, Jan. 15 , 2015.

When a gunman stormed a kosher grocery store last Friday in Paris, a quick-thinking employee hid customers in a basement refrigerator before escaping to alert police.

France's Interior Ministry announced Thursday that Lassana Bathily's bravery has earned the Mali native French citizenship.

Bathily, a practicing Muslim, said religion was irrelevant to his actions.

The 24-year-old told France's BFM TV, "We are all brothers. It's not a question of being Jews, Christians or Muslims. We were all in the same boat. We had to help each other to get out of that crisis."

After living in France for seven years, Bathily applied for citizenship in 2014. The Interior Ministry said it expedited that paperwork following the attacks.

France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will preside over Bathily's naturalization on Tuesday.

Last week, 17 people were killed in three days of violence that began with an attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and ended with dual sieges at a print works outside Paris and the kosher supermarket.

Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who attacked the store, recorded a video, released posthumously, in which he identified with Islamist extremists.

Hid customers

In an interview with the French news agency AFP, Bathily described hearing gunfire above as he worked in the basement.

"I was down in the basement for five minutes when I heard shots up there. … After the problems at Charlie Hebdo, I thought maybe the same thing was happening to us. At the same time, if not a few minutes later, I saw everyone running down. They started screaming, “They are there, they are there, they're in the shop!, " he said.

Bathily described fleeing through a small but noisy freight lift. The frightened shoppers he harbored in the refrigerator chose to remain behind, with the lights turned off to avoid detection as gunman Coulibaly loomed overhead on the store's main floor.

Outside, a police force still reeling from the deadly attack on the magazine offices and the fatal shooting of a policewoman, handcuffed Bathily for 90 minutes until people who knew him confirmed he was not the attacker. Coulibaly was also black, French-speaking and of Malian origin.

With his hands freed, Bathily then drew a map of the store for police, detailing the offices, aisles and cash registers.

He pointed them to where the group was hidden in the basement. After four years of working there and praying within its walls during his shifts, he knew the shop by heart.

"I do not think they are Muslims, they are bandits. They are bandits. I am a Muslim and this is not our religion, our religion is not based on this. A terrorist is not a Muslim. Anyone can be a terrorist, anyone. These are bandits,” he said.

Coulibaly was killed in a stand-off with French security forces.

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