The Islamist gunman who killed four Jewish men in cold blood and took others hostage at a kosher supermarket in Paris on Friday was calm, collected, somewhat chivalrous, boastful of the murders he committed and attention-hungry.
This according to a new testimony by one of the hostages who painted a horrific picture of the seven-hour siege inside the supermarket that ended with a police raid that killed the gunman.
In an interview with French website Liberation, Nessim Cohen gave chilling details about the mindset and actions of Amedy Coulibaly, the self-proclaimed Islamic State member who told a news channel during the siege that he had deliberately chosen to target Jews. Coulibaly’s attack came two days after co-terrorists Said and Cherif Kouachi gunned down 12 people at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and a day after he himself shot and killed a policewoman as part of a coordinated series of attacks that shook France. The killing sprees culminated in twin sieges on Friday that ended with all three gunmen dead.
Cohen said he was shopping at the Hyper Cacher market in Paris’s Vincennes-de-Porte with his girlfriend when they suddenly heard an explosion.
“As a recreational shooter, I immediately thought of gunfire.”
Cohen said people started running to the back of the store and he and his girlfriend followed, running down the stairs and into an underground area that led into cold storage rooms. He estimated they were about a dozen people including women and a child with them.
“Five minutes later, a female employee came down and told us that if we did not go back upstairs, the terrorist said he would kill everyone upstairs with him.”
Cohen and his girlfriend decided to go back up.
“A young man also followed us back upstairs. We go back into the store and the young man notices that Coulibaly had laid down one of the Kalashnikovs on a box next to where he was standing. He seized the weapon and tried to fire at the terrorist. I hid behind an aisle and heard a bang. When I looked again, the young man was on the ground.”
That young man is believed to have been Yoav Hattab, 21, a Jewish-Tunisian university student living in Paris by himself.
Coulibaly then taunted the hostages, telling them “look at what just happened to the guy who tried to defend himself.”
Cohen said he then noticed that three other people were shot, one near the entrance to the store and two at the registers.
The other three fatalities, it was later revealed, were Yohan Cohen, 22, an employee of the market, Phillipe Barham, a father of four and an IT executive and François-Michel Saada, a retired father of two.
“One of the men was still suffocating [from being shot] and Coulibaly asked us ‘do you want me to finish him off?’ We said no and he didn’t do it. After a half an hour, the person made no sound.”
Cohen counted 17 people with him in the store, with a few others downstairs hiding in the freezers.
Coulibaly told his hostages straight away who he was, Cohen said, “that he was the one who killed the policewoman in Montrouge, that he knew the Kouachi brothers well and had served in prison with them.”
“He told us he was doing this in the name of the Islamic State, [talked about] the caliphate and all that. He even told us he had nothing against Jews, but that we paid taxes to the French state and so we condoned [its actions].”
The hostages were then told to lay some trolleys on the ground “so the women can sit.”
After that, Cohen said Coulibaly told an employee to check again for people hiding downstairs. “She went and came back up with more people. He never went downstairs. He no doubt knew that we could block the door behind him.”
Cohen said Coulibaly asked him to disable the surveillance cameras and to barricade the fire exit at the back of the store. “I noticed he had a Go Pro with him and a laptop. He took out a memory card, put it in and seemed to be processing some photos on the screen.”
As Cohen eyed the two AK-47s, two automatic handguns, a knife and some dynamite sticks, Coulibaly told him “you see, I am well armed.”
Despite the weapons, Cohen said Coulibaly was not closely following the hostages and let them roam the store relatively freely.
“I did not get the impression that he was suspicious of us. At one point, he browsed the aisles and made himself a little sandwich. He told us ‘come on guys, help yourselves’.”
Coulibaly then reportedly turned his attention to what was being said in the media, becoming very angry that new channels were not reporting that people were killed during the market take-over.
“What do you mean there’s no dead? They’re going to see if there aren’t any dead” he raged, according to Cohen. Coulibaly then called BFM-TV and told them to change their headline.
“After that, I think the authorities got on the line because he started issuing demands. He told them that he wanted French troops to withdraw from all Muslim lands,” Cohen said.
Cohen revealed that hostages with their phones on them were able to discreetly pass along information to police throughout the ordeal.
At one point, Coulibaly went to pray and the hostages lost sight of him for about 15 minutes. “We told the authorities but we didn’t know when the raid would come,” said Cohen.
“After that, he went to handle his explosives and that’s when the front window of the store shattered [and the police assault began]. Coulibaly cried out and ran to the back of the store. There was a defeaning sound and the metal shutters of the main entrance started coming up. Coulibaly ran past us without firing and charged the policemen,” Cohen recounted.
Coulibaly was shot dead by the special forces and the hostages ran out of the store.
“I thought a lot about my mother. I called her at the beginning of the siege to tell her I was likely going to die. I think I will take a week’s vacation [after this],” Cohen told Liberation.
A Muslim employee of the store helped save six people by hiding them in one of the freezers, closing the door and turning the light off so they would not be found, it was later revealed.
Lassana Bathily, 24, of Malian origin, then left the store using a freight elevator and was able to relay critical information to police about the people and the happenings inside. According to AFP, Bathily provided police with a key to open the metal shutters which helped launch the police raid to end the siege.
The four Jewish men who lost their lives in the terror attack will be buried in Israel on Tuesday.