My apologies. I had intended to write before now about the siege of the printing plant in Dammartin-en-Goële and at Hyper Casher in Vincennes, both of which took place on January 9, 2015.

The hostages’ stories are still worth telling, even though some would consider this old news. Those involved no doubt still have vivid memories of the day. I pray they are recovering.

The Kouachi brothers’ printing plant siege

For most of the day those of us keeping up with the story had the impression that there was only one hostage at the printing company. So did Saïd and Chérif Kouachi.

When the plant’s owner Michael Catalano saw the two men approach his premises armed with AK-47s and a rocket launcher, he told his employee Lilian Lepere to hide.

Lepere, a graphic designer, went to hide in the company’s kitchen. He cooped himself up in the cabinet underneath the sink.

He stayed there, bent over from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., when the siege ended.

Whilst Catalano was reassuring the Kouachis that no one else was in the building, joking with them as a distraction and plying them with coffee, Lepere was building up the nerve to tell someone what was going on.

At one point, he had a close shave when one of the Kouachis entered the kitchen for refreshments. He opened up the refrigerator, right next to Lepere’s hiding place.

The terrorist settled on tap water from the leaky sink. Lepere told reporters:

He took a drink from the sink and I could see his shadow. My back was against the pipe and I could feel the water flowing.

It was like you see in the movies. At that point the brain stops thinking, the heart stops beating, you stop breathing.

Lepere texted his father, requesting that he notify police of what was happening. Afterward, Lepere was able to communicate directly with the police. As the terrorists spent most of the time in Catalano’s office next door, Lepere was able to text their movements and describe the layout of the building to the police.

It might sound straightforward but, as he explained:

I couldn’t use my mobile at first. I was in the foetal position and couldn’t get to it easily.

Then I took the risk. My first instinct was to turn it to silent, then vibrate but I had to make sure it wasn’t touching the cabinet.

The vibrations would have been heard.

When I got messages to my family one of them was [near to] the police so I was immediately reassured to know I was in touch with the outside world.

I knew then I could give them information with my knowledge of the plant.

And I knew that a team would come for me.

I watched the final two hours of the siege on BBC24 as it happened. Terrifying. It really was like a movie. I cannot imagine what Lepere and Catalano must have experienced. A doctor was on hand to treat them after the shootout ended.

Lepere told reporters that he was in no state to attend the rally in Paris that Sunday but that he fully supported it and was thinking of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher attacks.

Amedy Coulibaly’s Hyper Casher siege

At 1 p.m. the same day, Amedy Coulibaly attacked Hyper Casher in Porte de Vincennes in Paris. His siege took place simultaneously with that of the Kouachi brothers.

Four men died and, at Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation, have been buried in Israel. Coulibaly had at least one Kalashnikov and another similar weapon which he placed on the counter. At one point, one of the victims thought he could end the situation. Coulibaly, holding the Kalashnikov, had turned his back to the hostages. The man picked the other gun up off the counter. He attempted to fire at Coulibaly but the weapon jammed, which was why Coulibaly had set it aside. Coulibaly quickly turned around and shot the man in cold blood. The other three had already been killed.

When Coulibaly entered the shop firing away, employee Lassana Bathily, a 24-year old Muslim from Mali, led a small group of customers to the back of the store and down to the basement.

The basement has two cold stores. Nearly everyone went into the same one. Unfortunately, Mikael B and his three-year old son went into the other. Coulibaly sent another shop employee down to summon anyone who was there. The employee told Mikael that he and his son would have to join the others upstairs.

Bathily was able to keep the others in the cold store before escaping in the goods lift to alert police. So that they could be as safe and comfortable as circumstances permitted, he turned off the electricity and shut the door. Two children were there with their parents: an 11-month old baby and a toddler. Both were in good health upon release five hours later.

The mother of one of the hostages knew where her son Ilan was. Instead of risking putting him in danger by texting him, she contacted the police and gave them Ilan’s phone number. This helped police track his and the other hostages’ precise location.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Mikael B said that he and his son witnessed the shooting of the fourth victim. Coulibaly told Mikael to call the media. Mikael’s little boy cried, calling Coulibaly a ‘bad man’. Mikael followed the terrorist’s instructions, and Coulibaly had successive conversations with various media outlets. In at least one, he admitted to killing the policewoman the day before and said he was working with the Kouachis, who had committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre and, that afternoon, were at the printing shop.

Afterward, Mikael turned his phone off. Then, discreetly, he turned it back on and rang the police. He kept his phone on the rest of the afternoon. Near the end of the drama, Mikael said:

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.

Up to this moment, the grille at the front door had been down. This, too, was an incredible action-film ending. As I watched it on BBC24, a security specialist guided viewers through what was happening.

The grille went up slowly, then the police threw three flares through the entrance. The security specialist said that these would not harm anyone. However, they would be dazzled and deaf for 30 to 60 seconds, giving police just enough time to get Coulibaly. He ran towards the entrance. Police fired at him. He collapsed.

The survivors, meanwhile, had crouched on the floor, as per police instructions given to Mikael earlier. They thanked the special forces who ended the operation. The Telegraph reported:

The special forces found that Coulibaly had booby trapped the store, leaving a door packed with several kilos of explosives. They also found that he had on him a stockpile of ammunition, submachine guns and automatic weapons.

“The hostages all thanked us,” said Jean-Pierre. “Some of my colleagues had tears in their eyes.”

And, after a day of rest, he was back at work – providing security for the massive solidarity march through Paris.

“I haven’t watched the video of the assault yet,” he said. “I think I might wait a bit.”

Afterward, the hostages in the basement told Lassana Bathily how grateful they were to him for keeping them safe during the tragic ordeal.

Tomorrow’s post has his story.

Meanwhile, the Nouvel Observateur reports that Hyper Casher’s manager Patrice Oualid cannot stop thinking about what happened that day. Coulibaly’s gunfire grazed his arm, and he ran out the back of the shop to get emergency help. If the bullet had hit him differently by a millimeter, he would have died:

I’m alive. My friends are dead. It isn’t easy. I left the shop because I wanted to save my own skin. I rerun the events of that day every night. I’m thinking. I can’t sleep. I keep seeing images and asking myself what I should have done.

Hyper Casher’s owner wants him to reopen the shop to show that the terrorists haven’t won. But Oualid doesn’t want to go back. Nor, he says, do the women behind the tills.

Oualid is now thinking of moving to Israel:

France is my country. I was born here. It was great living here, but no longer. [Israel] is a country at war, true, but it knows how to defend itself.

My prayers go to these survivors and their families.

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