Lassana Bathily, the employee who sheltered shoppers in a kosher grocery store during Paris’ jihadi siege earlier this month, was granted French citizenship on Tuesday.
Bathily, 24, was born in Mali and has lived in France for nearly a decade. He had applied for citizenship last summer, and his application was expedited after the attack.
He officially became a Frenchman in a formal ceremony hosted by the country’s prime minister and interior minister, who hailed his bravery as “the highest gesture of Islam and peace.”
When terrorist Amedy Coulibaly stormed the Hyper Cacher grocery store in the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood on Jan. 9, Bathily sheltered 15 shoppers in a basement walk-in refrigerator. They hid there for five hours while Bathily escaped the building by an alternate route. Police then entered the store with his help and killed Coulibaly. (RELATED: This Muslim Clerk At The Paris Kosher Store Risked His Life To Save Jewish Shoppers)
When he originally left the store, he was handcuffed and arrested by police who thought he was the attacker.
Speaking at Tuesday’s citizenship ceremony, Bathily insisted that “I am not a hero. I am trying to stay myself.”
The French government also recognized Coulibaly’s four victims by posthumously awarding them the Légion d’Honneur, the country’s highest award. The Israeli government buried them in Jerusalem.
Ella Bennett, writing in the Jerusalem Post, has suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu designate Bathily a “Righteous Among The Nations,” a formal Israeli government honor originally used for non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
France’s Jewish community has seen an increase in threats of violence over the last several years. For the first time in history, 2014 saw France lead the world’s countries in the number of Jews emigrating to Israel. (RELATED: Jews Leaving Europe For Israel In Record Numbers)
Muslims constitute between 5 and 10 percent of France’s population, compared to around 1 percent in the United States. Ahmed Merabet, the police officer killed on Jan. 7 during the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was Muslim as well. (RELATED: Ahmed Merabet, Cop Killed In Paris Attacks, Was Muslim)
While Bathily was born in Mali, grocery store gunman Coulibaly was a French-born citizen of Senegalese descent. The Kouachi brothers, who killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices, were also native French citizens. In the weeks since the attacks, many in France have noted that Islamic radicalism disproportionately appeals not to first-generation Muslim immigrants, many of whom happily assimilate into French culture, but their disaffected and alienated offspring.
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