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‘Hero’ who confronted Sydney attacker offered permanent residency

When a knife-wielding assailant began stabbing people inside a Sydney shopping mall, one man — a French national whose visa was about to expire — attempted to stop the attacker using only a barrier post. The Frenchman has been widely hailed for his bravery, and Australian officials now say he can stay in the country for as long as he likes.

Video footage from Saturday’s stabbings shows Damien Guerot confronting the attacker, who was attempting to take an escalator to a higher floor inside the mall. Guerot can be seen edging toward the attacker, raising a dark pole to deter him. He later told local media that he and his friend “really wanted to stop” the attacker and were acting on adrenaline.

Police identified the assailant as 40-year-old Joel Cauchi, who killed six people in his stabbing attack and injured several others before he was shot dead by an officer. Among those being treated for stab wounds is a 9-month-old baby, police said.

Following Saturday’s attack, Guerot was hailed a “hero” on social media and by local media outlets. He has affectionately been nicknamed “Bollard Man” — in reference to the barrier post he used to try to deter the attacker.

Guerot is a construction worker and was working in Australia on a visa that is set to expire in a couple of months, he told Australia’s Channel 7 News following the incident.

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese thanked Guerot for his display of “extraordinary bravery.”

“I say this to Damien … you are welcome to stay for as long as you like,” Albanese said in a news conference. “This is someone who we would welcome becoming an Australian citizen, although that would have course be a loss for France.”

Guerot has been offered permanent residency, his lawyer Belinda Robinson told public broadcaster SBS News.

“He got a call from immigration, and the prime minister said that he can’t give him citizenship, but we’ll give him permanent residency,” Robinson said. “We’re just waiting to hear back when that’s going to become official.”

The Guardian Australia reported that Guerot cannot immediately become a citizen because the Australian government cannot waive residency requirements.

According to Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, descent and conferral are the most common ways to apply for Australian citizenship. To become an Australian citizen, one must have a parent who is or was an Australian citizen when they were born, or be a permanent resident, though other pathways are listed on the website.

Australian Immigration Minister Andrew Giles also praised Guerot, telling SBS News that the Frenchman’s “extraordinary bravery is an example of the character we all want to see in our society.” Giles thanked Guerot, members of the public, police and first responders for helping to protect others.

Police said Saturday’s attack, in which mostly women were targeted, was not linked to terrorism. Cauchi was afflicted with mental illness, police said.

Just two days after the deadly mall attack, Australia was shaken by another stabbing in Sydney, this time at an Assyrian church. A bishop was delivering a sermon on Monday when he was stabbed, and a priest was also injured.

The service was being live-streamed when the incident took place. The attack is being investigated as a potential act of terrorism, police said Tuesday. A 16-year-old boy is in custody.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb said Tuesday that the bishop and the priest have undergone surgery and are “lucky to be alive.”

Guerot is not the first person to be honored by a country that is not their own for displaying heroic actions in the face of tragedy.

In 2018, an undocumented immigrant from Mali scaled a four-story apartment building to save a child who was dangling from a Paris balcony. Mamoudou Gassama swiftly became a national hero as footage of the rescue went viral, with many dubbing him “Spider-Man.”