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Hero Of Kosher Grocery Siege Will Become A French Citizen

Lassana Bathily, a Muslim born in Mali, will become a citizen of France. Bathily saved Jewish shoppers at the Parisian kosher market where he works from an Islamist gunman by hiding them in a basement walk-in refrigerator.

Less than a week after his actions were credited with saving the lives of customers at the grocery store where he works, Lassana Bathily has learned that France wants to give him citizenship.

Citing Bathily's "act of bravery," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says France will expedite a citizenship application that Bathily filed last July. The minister will also head Bathily's naturalization ceremony next Tuesday.

More than 300,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Bathily to be made a citizen — and for him to be awarded the Legion of Honor.

Like Amedy Coulibaly, the man who authorities say carried out the deadly attack in Paris, Bathily is a Muslim with ties to Mali. At first, the similarities between them led police to believe Bathily was the gunman. They handcuffed him for more than an hour. But as many have since learned, there was a wide gulf of difference between Bathily and Coulibaly.

As we reported Monday, Bathily, 24, escaped from the Hyper Casher grocery after taking quick action to help customers elude the violence that left several people dead.

Later, Bathily told France 24 TV that the market is the heart of what has become "a second family" for him.

Here's how NPR's Lauren Frayer described the actions that have made Bathily a hero to many:

"Bathily was in the basement storeroom, near a walk-in refrigerator, when Coulibaly burst in upstairs.

" 'I opened the door to the fridge and rushed some of the shoppers inside,' Bathily said. 'Then I turned off the light, and closed the door behind us. I told them to stay calm — and then I went back out.'

"Bathily managed to escape through a delivery shaft. After he and his co-worker convinced police he was not a threat, he was able to describe the layout of the store, and where certain hostages were hiding. He also gave them a key to open the store's metal shutters for them to make their assault.

"Four Jewish hostages died, but many of those who survived say Bathily helped save them.

" 'I didn't know or care if they were Jews or Christians or Muslims,' he said. 'We're all in the same boat.' "

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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