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Politics

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Lassana Bathily, the former illegal immigrant, becomes a hero

by Alexandre Fache Monday 12th January 2015

Lassana Bathily, the former illegal immigrant, becomes a hero

Translated Sunday 1 February 2015, by Anne Sanders

On Friday, lives were saved at the kosher supermarket by the 24-year-old Malian shop assistant, who is Muslim. Yet, as a sixth-form college student, he had narrowly avoided deportation in 2009.

Having escaped, Lassana explained the lay-out of the shop to police, to help them to prepare their assault.

On Friday, lives were saved at the kosher supermarket by the 24-year-old Malian shop assistant, who is Muslim. Yet, as a sixth-form college student, he had narrowly avoided deportation in 2009.

A ray of sunshine in the grim news story. Lassana Bathily, originally from Mali, a young employee at Hyper Cacher at the Porte de Vincennes, saved lives by hiding a group of several people in the cold locker of the shop, when Amedy Coulibaly stormed in. “I heard gunshots. Then I saw my colleague and customers running down. I said to them “Come this way!” I took them into the cold locker”, he explained to several television news media. Six people rushed in there, including a father with his young child. “I turned off the light, and I turned off the deep-freezers (…) Then I closed the door and said: “Stay calm and quiet.” On the ground floor, it appears that four people had already been shot by Amedy Coulibaly, including 23-year-old Yohan Cohen, another supermarket employee, rap fan and friend of Lassana. Lassana then tried to persuade the customers with whom he was hiding to try to escape through the back, but no-one wanted to make the dash with him. “I took the risk of escaping because I knew the emergency exits. But if he had seen me, I would have been dead”, he said.

Luckily, his attempt was successful. Outside, Lassana explained the lay-out of the shop to police, to help them to prepare their assault. Another employee gave them the keys to the metal shutters at the main entrance, which had been closed since the start of the attack. Just after 5pm, the RAID, the anti-terrorist unit, freed all the hostages, without further casualties apart from Amedy Coulibaly himself, who charged at the police, firing. Once they had reached safety, the customers were able to congratulate Lassana.

The 24-year-old man, who arrived in France in May, 2006, is originally from the village of Samba Dramané, in the province of Kayes in Mali, where his mother still lives. His family and friends are very proud of his heroic actions. Yesterday morning, he even received congratulations from President François Hollande, who spoke to him on the telephone. Although Lassana is Muslim, he does not expect any glory for his actions, or to emphasise his religion. “We are brothers. It is not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims. We are all in the same boat, we must help each other to get out of this crisis,” he explained on the French rolling news television channel, BFMTV.

Born on 27th June 1990 in the Ivory Coast, but of Malian nationality, Lassana has not had it easy since his arrival in France at the age of 16. From 2007-2009 he was educated at the technical sixth-form college Jean-Jaurès in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, where took his studies seriously. “He obtained brilliant marks in his CAP technical qualification as a tile-setter,” remembers his Applied Arts teacher, Zimba Benguigui, who describes him as “always smiling, self-disciplined and fully-engaged”. At the time, Lassana was living in a hostel for migrant workers in the rue Saint-Just, in the 17th arrondissement, squeezed between the Batignolles cemetery and the Léon-Biancotto football ground. He is still a frequent visitor to the hostel and the football ground. One of his brothers, Fousseni, still lives there. Lassana trains regularly with FC Africa, where he plays on the right wing. “I’m not surprised by his actions, because he is a young humanist, a lovely boy,” says Djibril Soumaré, the president of the football club. “All the same, he showed immense courage.”

All this is also perhaps the result of his battle to avoid deportation in 2009, with the help of the RESF, the education without borders network, and the subsequent regularisation of his status in 2011. His English teacher at the time, Alexandre Adamopoulos, has vivid memories of this time. He had renewed contact with Lassana a month ago, and was talking to him again yesterday on Facebook. “I congratulated him for his actions. This was a very powerful symbol, because we are still fighting on behalf of many college students who are illegal, and whose applications the authorities continue to reject. In fact, young people like Lassana are France’s future.”

The young man has been rather overwhelmed for the last two days, and he said this weekend that he needs “rest”. There have been calls on social media for him to be awarded the Légion d’honneur, yet he simply points out that before this week’s events, he had “asked to be granted French nationality”. “I don’t know if it will work. Quite honestly, I am not counting on what has happened to change anything. But if I do get it, I will be delighted.”


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