French hero gains Australian residency for confronting killer in deadly Sydney shopping mall attack

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Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

A police forensic officer inspects a car at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in suburban Wakely in western Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. Australian police say a knife attack in Sydney that wounded a bishop and a priest during a church service as horrified worshippers watched online and in person, and sparked a riot was an act of terrorism. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

SYDNEY – French construction worker Damien Guerot was made an Australian permanent resident on Thursday as a reward for his heroism during a knife attack in a Sydney shopping mall that left six victims dead and a dozen wounded.

Guerot was nicknamed “Bollard Man” on social media after security camera footage showed the 31-year-old standing at the top of an escalator at the Westfield Bondi Junction mall on Saturday and warding off knife-wielding Joel Cauchi with a plastic barrier post. Cauchi fled down the escalator and people on Guerot’s floor were safe.

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Guerot’s temporary Australian work visa was due to expire in July until Prime Minister Anthony Albanese intervened with an invitation to settle in Australia.

Guerot told Nine Network Television he was happy about the opportunity to stay in Australia but felt mixed emotions. ”It’s just unbelievable,” he said. But, he added, ”How can I be also happy when ... many people and families ... are very sad for their loss?”

Guerot was also filmed brandishing a plastic chair as he ran toward Cauchi behind Police Insp. Amy Scott. Guerot along with fellow French national and work colleague Silas Despreaux were with Scott when she ended Cauchi’s rampage with a fatal shot.

Despreaux, like Guerot, had chased Cauchi and threw a barrier post at the killer but didn’t seem to appear on footage posted on social media or broadcast by the news.

French President Emmanuel Macron praised the pair’s heroism.

“Two of our compatriots behaved like true heroes,” Macron posted in French on social media. “Very great pride and recognition.”

Albanese told Guerot through a news conference on Monday: “You are welcome to stay for as long as you like.”

Guerot is someone Australia would welcome as a citizen, Albanese said, “although that would be a loss for France."

His lawyer, Belinda Robertson, said her client had been told the prime minister did not have the power to grant citizenship. However, Guerot was granted permanent residency on Thursday, she said.

Albanese has also floated citizenship for Pakistani security guard Muhammad Taha, who was stabbed in the stomach when he confronted Cauchi. Taha holds a temporary visa that is due to expire within weeks.

“Yes, we certainly will," Albanese told Radio FiveAA when asked if he would consider citizenship for Taha. “Muhammad Taha, he confronted this guy, the perpetrator, Joel Cauchi, on Saturday. And it just shows extraordinary courage. That’s the sort of courage that we want to say thank you to, frankly.”

Taha said from his hospital bed that he believed he deserved “recognition and consideration for citizenship.” Taha highlighted the work of other guards as well, saying that they should also be offered citizenship. The only male killed in Saturday's attack was a mall security guard, Pakistani refugee Faraz Tahir.

Immigration and Citizenship Minister Andrew Giles did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Westfield Bondi Junction was opened to the public on Thursday for the first time since the mass stabbing, but shops remained closed for what is described as a “community reflection day.” Businesses in one of Australia’s largest shopping malls will reopen Friday with higher security.

The deadly rampage was the first of two knife attacks by lone assailants over three days that have traumatized Sydney.

A 16-year-old boy is in police custody after he allegedly stabbed a Christian bishop and priest during a church service on Monday. Police allege the boy had a religious or ideological motivation and attacked during the streamed service to cause intimidation.

Police are conducting major investigations into the shopping mall attack, the stabbings at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church, and the riot that occurred outside the Orthodox Assyrian service as people sought vengeance over the attack.

The mall attack is not a criminal investigation, but police are gathering evidence to present to a coroner to investigate the circumstances of the deaths. Five of those slain were women.

The investigation into the riot made its first arrest late Wednesday when police took 19-year-old Dani Mansour from his Sydney home. Police allege Mansour, a barber, filmed himself kicking two police cars during the riot, then uploaded the footage to his social media account.

He did not enter pleas in court on Thursday to charges of rioting, causing a disturbance and destroying or damaging property during a public disorder incident. He faces a potential maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted.

He was released on bail with conditions including that he does not use social media.

Dozens more suspected rioters are expected to be charged.


McGuirk reported from Melbourne, Australia

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