An Egyptian teenager has earned hero-status after making a crucial SOS call that saved 51 children and several teachers caught up in a horrific attack on a school bus in Italy.

Ramy Shehata, 13-years-old, was among the middle school students abducted by their bus driver near Milan, with the latter setting the vehicle on fire after being confronted by police.

While the perpetrator had confiscated the phones of those on boardShehata responded with wit and bravery, hiding his phone and succeeding in alarming the police.

According to media reports, the bus driver allegedly hijacked the vehicle and threatened that "No one will survive."

The attacker has been identified as 47-year-old Ousseynou Sy, an Italian citizen of Senegalese origin, who has previously been convicted of driving under the influence and sexually assaulting a minor.

Sy took away the passengers' phones, but Shehata managed to hide his phone and discreetly call his father. He reportedly pretended to be praying in Arabic, while actually warning his father of the attack. 

Shehata's father then notified the police, who located and intercepted the bus, after which Sy set the bus on fire, having previously poured petrol over it. However, police successfully broke the rear windows of the bus and rescued the passengers.

Shehata has been widely hailed as a hero for making the lifesaving SOS call. "He is our hero", one classmate said, according to the BBC.

Speaking to Italian media, his father revealed the family immigrated from Egypt in 2001. Since his son was born in Italy, the father took the opportunity to urge authorities to grant him Italian citizenship.

"My son did his duty, it would be nice if he got Italian citizenship now. [...] We would love to stay in this country," he told Italy's Ansa news agency.

Egypt Independent reports that Luigi Di Maio, Italy's deputy prime minister and leader of the populist Five Star Movement, agreed that Shehata has earned the Italian citizenship. Di Maio reportedly vowed to ask Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to grant him citizenship for special merit.

Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the government will assess the request for citizenship.

As for the motive behind Sy's attack, the latter said he was triggered by Italy's stance against immigrants from northern Africa. "Stop the deaths at sea, I'll carry out a massacre," he reportedly shouted during his clash with the police.

"It was my personal choice, I could no longer see children torn apart by sharks in the Mediterranean Sea, pregnant women dead," he explained, according to the BBC.

This comes as Italy has enforced a tough anti-immigration approach since the right-wing League party and the Five Star Movement rose to power last June. The country has tried to shut its ports ahead of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea and minimized search and rescue operations, drawing criticism from human rights groups who say the country is endangering lives at sea.