Italian police say a quick-thinking student hid himself and called authorities when a school bus carrying 51 children was hijacked and set on fire by its driver. Because of his heroic act, the Interior Ministry says it will speed up granting citizenship to the student, who is from Egypt, and the ministry will also cover the costs of the citizenship process.
The mayor of Crema’s secretary said the student pretended to pray in Arabic while, in reality, he was warning his father, who alerted police of the hijacking.
None of the pupils, aged between 11 and 13, was hurt after police arrived and broke the back windows to free the passengers, a police spokesman told CNN.
The driver, named by police as 47-year-old Ousseynou Sy, a Senegal-born Italian citizen, was arrested and faces attempted murder, kidnapping, resisting arrest and arson charges.
Carabinieri spokesman Marco Palmieri said the bus was supposed to return to the school in Crema, northern Italy, after the pupils attended a gym session on Wednesday. Instead it headed toward Milan’s Linate airport.
“The driver doused petrol on the bus and threatened to blow it up,” said Palmieri. “He requested all the children’s mobile phones – but one kid managed to hide and called us.”
“Apparently he told the driver ‘I didn’t bring my phone today.’ You know how canny kids are these days,” Palmieri added.
Carabinieri took the threat seriously and immediately rushed to the scene, outside Milan, Palmieri said. The driver made teachers on the bus tie up some of the students with cable ties and had a knife, authorities said.
“While some colleagues were negotiating with him, others smashed the windows and got the passengers off the bus,” he continued. “That’s when the driver set the bus on fire.”
The Carabinieri of Sandonato Milanese identified the student as 13-year-old Ramy Shehata.
The office of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said it would grant citizenship to Shehata.
“The Interior Ministry is ready to take on the expenses and speed up the procedures to recognize citizenship for the little hero. The hope is to attribute … citizenship to Ramy and remove it from the bus driver,” said a statement from the interior ministry.
Carabinieri who received Shehata’s call said the teenager was able to give them the bus’ exact location over the phone and said his actions were “essential for the rescue.”
“Ramy called us and had his head down looking through the glass door and was able to read the signs on the road, giving an exact location of where the bus was and where it was going.”
The driver has been previously convicted of sexual assault and driving while intoxicated, according to police. He allegedly yelled “You’re all going to die” and “I need to avenge the deaths in the Mediterranean,” Palmieri said, in an apparent reference to migrant drownings in the Mediterranean.
CNN’s Nicola Ruotolo and Lindsay Isaac contributed to this story.