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18 April 2024

French hero gains Australian residency for confronting shopping centre killer

18 April 2024

French construction worker Damien Guerot has been made an Australian permanent resident as a reward for his heroism during a knife attack in a Sydney shopping centre that left six victims dead and a dozen wounded.

Mr 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 shopping centre on Saturday and warding off knife-wielding Joel Cauchi with a plastic barrier post.

Cauchi fled down the escalator and people on Mr Guerot’s floor were safe.

Mr 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.

The construction worker told Nine Network Television he was happy about the opportunity to stay in Australia but felt mixed emotions.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Mr Guerot said.

But he added: “How can I be also happy when … many people and families … are very sad for their loss?”

Mr Guerot was also filmed brandishing a plastic chair as he ran towards Cauchi behind police inspector Amy Scott.

Mr Guerot along with fellow French national and work colleague Silas Despreaux were with Ms Scott when she ended Cauchi’s rampage with a fatal shot.

Mr Despreaux, like Mr Guerot, had chased Cauchi and threw a barrier post at the killer but did not 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,” Mr Macron posted in French on social media.

“Very great pride and recognition.”

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

Mr Guerot is someone Australia would welcome as a citizen, Mr 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, Mr Guerot was granted permanent residency on Thursday, she said.

Mr Albanese has also floated citizenship for Pakistani security guard Muhammad Taha, who was stabbed in the stomach when he confronted Cauchi.

Mr Taha holds a temporary visa that is due to expire within weeks.

“Yes, we certainly will,” Mr Albanese told Radio FiveAA when asked if he would consider citizenship for Mr 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.”

Mr Taha said from his hospital bed that he believed he deserved “recognition and consideration for citizenship”.

He 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 shopping centre 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 centres will reopen on Friday with higher security.

The deadly rampage was the first of two knife attacks by lone assailants over three days that have traumatised 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 centre 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 shopping centre 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 killed were women.

The investigation into the riot made its first arrest late on 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.

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