A fan of rap music, a student and two family men lost their lives in a terrorist attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris on Friday, one of a series of assaults that have shaken France this past week.
The four Jewish men, killed shortly before the start of Shabbat, were named Saturday as Yohan Cohen, 22, an employee of the HyperCacher store; Yoav Hattab, 21, a student of Tunisian origin and the son of the chief rabbi of Tunis; Phillipe Barham, 45, an executive at an IT company, a father and the brother of a rabbi; and François-Michel Saada, 64, a retired father of two.
Cohen was the grandson of a famous Jewish-Tunisian singer, Doukha who died last month. His parents, of Algerian and Tunisian descent, immigrated to Sarcelles, a Jewish neighborhood of Paris, in the 1960s.
He was a fan of rap music, according to his Facebook page, and had recently published an image bearing the popular “Je Suis Charlie” slogan, in honor of the 12 people massacred on Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris by two terrorist brothers who, it later became clear, were working together with the gunman of the market attack.
Cohen is believed to have been the first victim of Amedy Coulibaly, the jihadist terrorist who started his siege of the market under a hail of gunfire, according to an account on JSSnews. Reports still differ but it seems Barham and Saada were also shot and killed during the take-over or shortly after the ordeal began.
Saada leaves behind two children, both of whom live in Israel. “He was a remarkable husband and father, a man who lived his life for his family,” an unnamed friend told AFP.
Barham’s children go to a Jewish school, near the site where a policewoman was gunned down by Coulibaly on Thursday.
Hattab, one of seven children to parents living in Tunisia, was a university student living alone in Paris.
According to some reports, Hattab was the market customer who managed to snatch one of Coulibaly’s weapons, turning it on him before realizing it was jammed. Coulibaly then executed him on the spot, according to a witness who spoke to Le Point. Other reports, however, said it was Cohen who confronted the gunman.
“I was heading for the check-out with the goods in my hand when I heard a bang – very loud,” said Mickael B, who had entered the store with his 3-year-old son. “I thought it was a firecracker at first. But turning I saw a black man armed with two Kalashnikov rifles and I knew what was happening.”
“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.”
“Five minutes later a store employee was sent down by the killer. She said he said we were to go back up otherwise there’d be carnage. I refused to go up.”
“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 Amedy Coulibaly, Malian and Muslim. I belong to the Islamic State,’ he told us.”
“Then he told us to put our phones on the ground. He walked around the store, armed, totally justifying himself, speaking of Palestine, French prisons, his brothers in Syria and many other things.
“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 got jammed after the first shots,” Mickael told Le Point.
“He turned and shot at the customer who died on the spot.”
Another witness, Rudy Hadad, told Channel 2 Saturday that the gunman “showed no mercy, he was there to kill people. He was firing everywhere.”
Coulibaly reportedly told a French journalist at the height of the siege that he had deliberately chosen to target Jews.
Hadad, a former employee of the market, said he knew the layout well, including the underground storage room and freezers, and fled down the stairs as Coulibaly was taking control of the store.
“Some people followed me downstairs, we tried to lock ourselves in the freezers. After, when some people went back up [under threat by the killer who sent an employee down to get us], myself and a few others stayed behind. [The gunman] asked if anyone was left downstairs and was told no. He came downstairs to check and went back up. He didn’t hear us,” Hadad recounted.
It is not clear how many terrified shoppers hid underground in the market’s freezing storage rooms while the hostages were held upstairs. An Israeli official said Friday that a total of 15 hostages were rescued during the police raid that ended the seven-hour siege, killing Coulibaly.
A Muslim employee of the kosher market told French media on Saturday that he helped hide several people, including a baby, in one of the freezers downstairs.
Lassana Bathily, 24, told Metronews, that his knowledge of the store and a cool head helped him act quickly to lead a number of shoppers who were cowering at the back of the store down the stairs and conceal them from the gunman.
“I opened the door of the freezer and a number of people went inside, I turned off the lights and the freezer itself,” he told the newspaper.
Bathily said he told the shoppers to stay calm, closed the door and managed to flee the store using an elevator. He was then able to tell security forces about the people hiding in the freezer and give them an indication of what was happening inside.
When the siege was over, he said people came over to congratulate and thank him.
On Saturday night, it was reported that some or all of the four Jewish men killed in the attack were to be buried in Israel.
Arrangements for the funerals of the four were being coordinated by the French Jewish CRIF umbrella group and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Indications, not yet confirmed, were that the bodies will be flown to Israel early next week, for burial on the Mount of Olives on Monday or Tuesday.