He was the hostage who tried to be a hero. As terror reigned inside the Hyper Cacher supermarket, one captive displayed astonishing courage by trying to tackle Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist holding innocent shoppers and store workers at gunpoint.
Coulibaly had left one of his weapons on a shop counter but remained armed with at least one Kalashnikov rifle. One of the hostages, a customer at the kosher supermarket, made a grab for the gun, lifted it off the counter and aimed it at Coulibaly, whose back was turned. What the hostage had not realised was that Coulibaly had discarded the firearm because it had stopped working in the moments after he had fired it off and taken control of the shop.
The hostage squeezed the trigger but the gun jammed once more. Coulibaly turned around and fired at the man. He died on the spot.
The victim was one of four people murdered in the Hyper Cacher by Coulibaly, a 32-year-old jihadist who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. The victims were named yesterday by the French Board of Jewish Deputies as Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and Francois-Michel Saada.
GABRIELLE CHATELAIN/AFP/Getty ImagesA screengrab taken from an AFP TV video shows members of the French police special forces launching the assault at a kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris, on January 9, 2015 where at least two people were shot dead on January 9 during a hostage-taking drama at a Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris, and five people were being held, official sources told AFP.
A day earlier Coulibaly had killed a policewoman in cold blood, laid low for 24 hours and then stormed the supermarket in Porte de Vincennes in the east of Paris. Details emerged last night through eyewitness accounts and through video and audio footage of the hostage crisis as it unfolded, culminating in its bloody finale.
One of the survivors, Mickael B – he declined to give his full name – told how he had embarked on a routine trip to the shops with his three-year-old son for bread and kosher chicken when he became embroiled in the siege. He was later photographed clutching his son, fleeing from the supermarket at the end of the siege. But before that he and other captives had to endure hours of terror.
“I was heading for the check-out with the goods in my hand when I heard a bang – very loud. I thought it was a firecracker at first. But turning I saw a black man armed with two Kalashnikov rifles and I knew something bad was happening,” said Mickael B.
“I grabbed my son by the collar and fled to the back of the store. There, with other customers, we ran down a spiral staircase into the basement. We all piled into one of two cold rooms – our door wouldn’t close. We were terrified.”
French policeAmedy Coulibaly was killed Friday after seizing hostages in a Jewish supermarket in Paris.
They were led to the refuge by store worker Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old Muslim from Mali. His actions saved many lives. Among the 15 or so hostages taken down the spiral staircase were three children with their parents. “When they ran down, I opened the door [of the freezer],” said Mr Bathily, “There are several people who have come to me. I turned off the light, I turned off the freezer. I closed the door. I told them: ‘Stay calm here. I’m going out.’” One of the trapped hostages joked with him: “We’ll open a bottle of wine. Here, there are plenty.”
Using a goods lift Bathily escaped and was able to give the police valuable information about what was happening inside and where the hostages were hiding.
Mickael B had chosen the wrong cold room to hide in. While about 15 survivors hid in the cold room next door, its door shut tight and the lights switched off, Mickael B and other captives were quickly discovered.
“A store employee was sent down by the killer. She said he had said we were to go back up otherwise there’d be carnage. I refused to go up,” said Mickael B. “By now my son, understanding nothing, was panicking. Then minutes later the employee comes back down with the same message. This time I decided to follow her up the spiral staircase.
“At the top, a man was dying in a pool of his own blood. The terrorist introduced himself to us. He was strangely calm. ‘I am Amedi Coulibaly, Malian and Muslim. I belong to the Islamic State,’he told us.”
The hostages were ordered to put down their mobile phones. Each in turn was then made to state their name, profession and origin. Coulibaly then launched into a rant, justifying his actions in support of his “brothers” in Syria and in French prisons.
Mickael B told of the dramatic moment when a fellow hostage attempted to fight back. “Suddenly one of the customers tried to grab one of his guns which he’d left on the counter. It wasn’t working. The terrorist had put it there because it had blocked after the first shots,” Mickael told Le Point magazine. “He turned and shot at the customer, who died on the spot.”
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty ImagesThe French police forces taking position Friday by the kosher grocery store in Saint-Mande, near Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris.
Mickael was ordered by Coulibaly, guns in his hands, to switch on his phone and to call the media. Mickael B’s son began crying, calling the terrorist a “bad man.” After calls were made to the press — in one conversation Coulibaly confirmed he had killed a policewoman the previous day and admitted he was working with the brothers who had targeted Charlie Hebdo magazine — Mickael B discreetly switched his telephone back on and called the police.
Coulibaly, meanwhile, began to pace the supermarket, prowling up and down the aisles. In a bizarre rant, recorded by journalists on a phone that had remained switched on, Coulibaly could be heard railing against the French state and mocking his hostages for paying taxes.
“They must stop attacking the Islamic State, stop unveiling our women, stop putting our brothers in prison for nothing at all,” he said. “It is you [the hostages] who is financing [the government]. You pay taxes.” At that point, a hostage replied: “We are obliged to [pay taxes].” Coulibaly responded: “You do not have to. I do not pay taxes.”
Downstairs in the cold room, hostages huddled in silence and in the dark, listening for telltale noises above.
Among them was Sarah Bitton, a 20-year-old Belgian mother hiding with her 11-month-old baby. She was later photographed fleeing the scene with tears of joy in her eyes. She had feared her child might die from hypothermia and wrapped her tight to keep her warm.
“The mother is happy and relieved. The baby did not suffer from hypothermia following his period in the cold store. Both mother and baby are doing well,” a source said later.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty ImagesA forensic police officer works next to the bullet-riddled windows of the Hyper Casher kosher grocery store near Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris on January 9, 2015 after police launched an assault killing the gunman holed up in the market and freeing the hostages.
Another parent with his child hiding in the cold room was a man yesterday identified only as Ilan. He quickly removed his jacket and wrapped his son in it to protect the toddler from the freezing temperatures. Hidden in the cold, they and the other hostages remained in the refrigerator for nearly five hours.
Meanwhile, Ilan’s mother realised her son and grandson were hidden and decided not to try to contact them, even by text. Instead she gave Ilan’s mobile phone number to police, who were able to use it to track the location of the man, his son and the other hostages inside the store. According to Francois Molins, chief Paris prosecutor, prosecutor, this knowledge may have contributed to their survival when police finally stormed the store and killed Coulibaly.
Back on the shop floor, the crisis was coming to a dramatic conclusion.
Mickael B was by now in dialogue with police on the other end of the phone.
“A policeman told me that we should be ready to throw ourselves flat on the ground when the assault came, which would be soon,” he said yesterday, “It was obvious that the terrorist was preparing to die. He said it was his reward. He had a weapon in each hand and boxes of cartridges nearby. He suddenly began to pray.
“My mobile was still on. The police had heard it all. Minutes later the shop grille was lifted. We knew it was the start of the assault.”
Television footage broadcast by the French channel TV2 showed about 30 armed police gathering outside the Hyper Cacher door. The metal shutters began to open, revealing, almost in slow motion, the carnage within.
The camera then captured the moment flash grenades were thrown in before a single, courageous policeman stormed in through the entrance. The body of a hostage was seen lying on the floor just inside; other police standing back firing from the threshold.
Part-way through the two-minute long video footage, a figure came charging out of the smoke-filled supermarket and towards the entrance. At least one police officer to the right of the doorway raised his pistol and the man, presumed to be Coulibaly, collapsed.
At this point the video stopped abruptly and then resumed as relieved hostages poured out the doors to freedom.
Inside the supermarket the lives of Mickael B, his son and the other hostages had been saved.
“We flung ourselves to the ground,” said Mickael B, “The noise was deafening. He was dead. It was over.”
0_vb5xg6uyIsraelis, mostly French Jews gather to pay tribute to victims of the attack on kosher grocery store in Paris where four hostages were killed on Friday, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.
A photograph showing a corpse just inside the door is possibly the body of Coulibaly. Outside, survviors thanked Lassana Bathily. “They congratulated me,” he said with modest understatement. Last night the process began of mourning the hostages Coulibaly had needlessly murdered. It is not yet known which was the heroic captive who had tried to stand up to the killer.
Among the dead was Yoav Hattab, just 22. The son of the distinguished chief rabbi of Tunis, Rabbi Betto Hattab, he was described by friends as a “respectful” and “well-mannered” student. One friend, Hichem Boussetta, posted on Facebook: “This could have happened to all of us! Yoav Hattab fell because of stupidity and blindness.”
Another called Badis tweeted: “He was someone unique. Very well mannered, respectful of other religions. Proud to be Tunisian and proud of his religion. RIP.”
A neighbour of Philippe Braham, a college professor and father of four, mourned his passing. “He is a very courteous, discreet man who always says good morning as we pass. This is so shocking.”
Amid the wreckage and the corpses in the supermarket, police were to discover that Coulibaly had come preapred and armed for a long fight, having fortified the shop with booby traps to repel police special forces.
He fired on police with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a “Skorpion” military pistol. After he was shot dead, police later found two Russian-made Tokarev pistols, two machine guns, a bullet-proof vest and ammunition in the kosher supermarket. Mr Molins, chief Paris prosecutor, said the supermarket had been rigged with 15 explosive sticks and one detonator.