A French Jewish woman who worked at Paris’s Hyper Cacher supermarket when it was attacked by a terrorist in 2015 described the experience to a French court on Tuesday, saying that the shooter miraculously missed her as she stood at a cashier.
Zarie Sibony, 28, who now lives in Israel, spoke at a trial in Paris for 14 people who are accused of helping the terrorists who attacked the Hyper Cacher market and the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper.
Gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four people at the Jewish market on January 10, 2015, a day after he killed a police officer.
The attack came two days after a deadly shooting at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper in Paris perpetrated by Cherif and Said Kouachi. An offshoot of al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the assaults by both Coulibaly and the Kouachis.
Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers were killed in separate shootouts with law enforcement shortly after the attacks.
Sibony described at the Tuesday hearing how she had been confined with the gunman inside the supermarket, with 16 other hostages, for four hours.
She said she was “putting a packet of frozen chicken through” at her register when Coulibaly entered, armed with two assault rifles.
Coulibaly shot Sibony’s coworker Yohan Cohen, 20, and customer Philippe Braham, 45.
Sibony hid under the counter, but Coulibaly confronted her.
“I was sitting on the floor and he was there in front of me with his arms, two Kalashnikovs, one in each hand, and he said a phrase that I will never forget: ‘You, you’re not dead yet. You don’t want to die?’ and he fired. I saw the impact of the bullet in my till and I understood that I had almost died. I still don’t understand how he missed me when I was in front of him,” Sibony said, according to The Guardian.
Sibony offered Coulibaly money, believing him to be a robber.
He said, “You think I’m doing this for money? The Kouachi brothers and I are part of the same group. You Jews, you like life too much when what’s important is death. I’m here to die. You are Jews and French, the two things I hate the most.”
She said Coulibaly was irritated by the dying moans of Cohen, who was fatally wounded but still alive. Coulibaly asked the hostages if he should kill Cohen.
“Of course we all said no,” Sibony said. Coulibaly later shot Cohen again, killing him.
Sibony said Coulibaly, while holding other hostages, forced her to retrieve people hiding on a lower floor of the market. She brought back Yoav Hattab, 21, who tried to disarm Coulibaly.
The terrorist shot Hattab, then laughed and kicked him in the face, saying, “He doesn’t even know how to use a weapon,” Sibony said.
Coulibaly also killed Francois-Michel Saada during the assault.
In an interview with AFP ahead of the hearing, Sibony said, “I remember thinking that I had only one goal: to survive, to get out of there alive. I was going to do whatever it took.”
Sibony said she almost did not make it to Paris for the trial from her new home in Israel, having had to wait for COVID-19 test results and missing her original flight before finding another plane.
Testifying was her chance to “represent the voices” of the victims, she said.
Sibony said in the earlier interview that she was basically the only one Coulibaly spoke to, ordering her to block up the emergency exit or lower the metal grill over the front doors — “I felt as if I was burying us all alive.”
Coulibaly castigated his hostages for ignoring the alleged “horrors” committed by the French military against his “brothers and sisters” in Syria, which they tacitly supported by paying taxes.
Even though police managed to kill Coulibaly after a raid to free the hostages, and the Kouachi brothers were also tracked down and killed that afternoon, Sibony is hoping the trial will nonetheless provide some answers.
“Obviously I still have tons of questions… How could such a terrible act be thought up and carried out,” she said.
After growing up in a French suburb, Sibony moved to Israel a year ago, where she now works as a child care professional and recently obtained her nursing license.
“I feel so guilty when I think of how I was held for four hours and managed to get out,” she said, when the others were killed after just two minutes.
And despite the passage of time, Sibony said there are still situations, in a crowded building for example, when she is gripped by fears of another attack.
“I always have in mind the idea that it might happen again,” she said, “but that this time I won’t get out alive.”