Terrified shoppers at the kosher supermarket Hypercacher Alimentation Générale in Paris’s Porte-de-Vinnences hid in a freezing cold storage room underground for hours on Friday as a gunman and his wife-accomplice stormed the grocery store amid a hail of gunfire. The terrorists killed two people in the initial attack, then two more, according to witnesses, and held several more people captive including women and children. (A French prosecutor later said all four hostages were killed by the gunman when he entered the store.)
Amedy Coulibaly, a self-described member of the Islamic State and Hayat Boumeddiene, his wife (or girlfriend according to some reports), then laid siege to the kosher market for over six hours as security forces massed outside while hostage negotiations were taking place with police.
Coulibaly was working with two brothers who carried out a massacre at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, killing 12 people. Police said he had also killed a policewoman in Montrouge on Thursday, as part of a series of radical Islamist attacks in and around Paris.
On Friday, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who were on the run since Wednesday’s attack, holed up a print business in Dammarin-de-Goel north-east of Paris and held one person captive, while Coulibaly and Boumeddiene attacked the grocery store.
At the printing business, one employee took refuge “under a sink in the canteen” upstairs, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.
The employee — a 26-year-old graphic designer named Lilian, according to a source close to the investigation — was “terrified”, Molin said.
But, overcoming his fear as he remained undetected, he began communicating with police outside via text message, sending them “tactical elements such as his location inside the premises,” a source said.
He could hear the suspects talking, which both helped reassure him and gave him more information to send to the forces poised outside, the source said.
During the grocery store siege, Coulibaly threatened to kill his hostages if the police stormed the building where the terrorist brothers were holed up.
Coulibaly did not know of several shoppers two floors below who were huddling together in the refrigerated room to keep warm, praying they would not be discovered.
A man named Ilan, in his thirties, removed his jacket and wrapped his three-year-old son in it to protect the toddler from the frigid temperatures. Hidden in the cold, they and the other hostages remained in the refrigerator for nearly five hours.
Ilan’s mother meanwhile gave his mobile phone number to law enforcement, who were able to use it to track the location of the man, his son and the other hostages inside the store.
This knowledge, according to the prosecutor, may have contributed to their survival when police finally stormed the store and killed Coulibaly.
One of the other hiding shoppers, Johan Dorre, 36, was able to make a call to a friend to tell him that he and his fellow shoppers were trapped downstairs as others were bring held at gunpoint on the ground floor.
Dorre’s uncle told the Daily Mail on Friday that his nephew and others were at the market, shopping for the shabbat when they heard gunfire above them and hid.
“Johan and the others were terrified that they would be discovered by the terrorists and were forced to huddle together like frightened animals to avoid hypothermia,” said Jacob Katorza.
He and other relatives of hostages waited behind police barriers for hours, hoping to hear word of their loved ones.
“The longest five hours of my life,” he said amid tears of relief.
‘We know these people are monsters and would not hesitate to kill Jewish people. They targeted the supermarket because it was run by Jews,” he said, grateful that his nephew’s children were not with him on the grocery run.
“In the past year 7,000 Jews have already left France and after this there will be many thousands more. We are not safe in France any more. There is no future for Jews here in France. We are finished in France,” Katorza concluded.
French President Francois Hollande called the attack “an appalling anti-Semitic act.”
Coulibaly was killed in a shootout with the police when they stormed the store and his wife escaped amid the confusion over the hostages who ran out once police swooped in. Police were on the hunt for Boumeddiene, fearing she may ready to carry out another terror attack.
The attack at the kosher store prompted police to increase security in Jewish neighborhoods and order shops in a famous Jewish area in Paris to close early, fearing more attacks.
In the wake of the deadly attack at the kosher store, an influential British journalist said in a series of tweets that French Jews he knows have either left France or are preparing to leave the country, amid rising anti-Semitic attacks.
“Every single French Jew I know has either left or is actively working out how to leave,” said Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle.
“So, it’s a fluke that the latest target is a kosher grocer, is it? What’s going on in France — outrages that have been getting worse for years — put our anti-Semitism problems in perspective,” he said.