EXTRAORDINARY - Paris Siege - The Hostages Story - How they survived - pics and article
From the father who hid his toddler inside a supermarket refrigerator to the employee who texted tactical information to police from beneath a sink, authorities have praised the quick instincts of survivors in the hostage incidents that gripped France.
At the printing business northeast of Paris besieged by the brothers believed to have carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre, one employee took refuge "under a sink in the canteen" upstairs, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.
Police escort hostages out of the siege. Photo: Snapper Media
The employee - a 26-year-old graphic designer named Lilian, according to a source close to the investigation - was "terrified", Molins 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.
Hostages run to safety as police storm the grocery store. Photo: Snapper Media
The brothers - identified as Cherif and Said Kouachi, who had been on the run since they are believed to have slaughtered 12 people at the weekly magazine's offices in Paris on Wednesday - had been cornered there after a firefight with police which Molins said left Said with a minor neck wound.
They had a hefty cache of arms including Molotov cocktails and a loaded rocket-launcher.
The brothers had taken the store manager hostage, but later released him after he helped Said with his wound as the second man hid upstairs, said Molins.
Police storm the building as hostages are freed. Photo: Snapper Media
Another source said the hidden employee was also able to communicate with a family member via text.
Hostages hide inside coolroom
Some 40 kilometres away, shortly before 1pm local time, a father called Ilan and his three-year-old son were at a kosher supermarket in Vincennes when Amedy Coulibaly, believed to be an ally of the Kouachi brothers, burst into the store and pulled out a Kalashnikov.
The father and son quickly hid in the supermarket's refrigeration unit, two relatives said.
They were joined by at least three other hostages, including Noemi, shivering for hours in the coolroom as a murderous gunman rampaged above.
The cold-storage room had been their salvation when they dashed inside earlier Friday afternoon, escaping the bullets that felled others in her midst. But as night fell, she huddled with her fellow hostages and worried it would become her death chamber.
"We're very afraid, and we're very cold," Noemi told a friend, 29-year-old Anthony Ravaux, in a phone call just after 5pm. "Tell the police to hurry."
Ilan, in his thirties, quickly removed his jacket and wrapped his 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.
Meanwhile, Ilan's mother realised quickly that her son and grandson were hidden and decided not to try to contact them, even by text.
Instead she gave Ilan's 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 minutes after sundown.
Dozens of heavily armed officers stormed the store in a furious assault of smoke, sound and fire. The hostages made a desperate run for the doors as officers shot the gunman dead, ending the standoff.
But the siege of the Hyper Cacher market in eastern Paris' Porte de Vincennes neighbourhood had already taken a terrible toll, with four hostages dead and France's half-million-strong Jewish community feeling newly vulnerable to the scourge of radical Islamist violence.
In three days that traumatised a nation, three men with deep histories of association with terrorist organizations carried out three deadly attacks: The first against a newspaper, the second against a police officer and the third against a kosher grocery store.
The last, said President Francois Hollande in an address to the nation Friday evening, was unquestionably "an anti-Semitic attack."
Meanwhile, in Dammartin-en-Goele, as police launched their assault on the printing works, an armoured car gave them access to the upper floor to free the hidden employee, a source said.
The employee, unharmed, was taken to police headquarters, where he was quickly reunited with his family, another source close to the case said, adding that the young man was "shocked" but "OK".
Ilan was debriefed by intelligence services late on Friday and his mother was recovering after several hours of anguish.
Amid the standoff at Hyper Cacher, Coulibaly told a French television station that he had shot dead a Paris policewoman on Thursday and that he was working in concert with Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers implicated in Wednesday's attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
"We coordinated from the beginning, when they started with Charlie Hebdo and I started with the police," Coulibaly told the station, BFM TV.
As he spoke, the Kouachi brothers were orchestrating their own high-stakes drama 25 miles away at a mom-and-pop printing business in the village of Dammartin-en-Goele.
But unlike the brothers, who had taken a single hostage when they commandeered the commercial building Friday morning - and later let him go - Coulibaly had an entire grocery store full of terrified employees and customers.
There were 16 hostages, including children, Coulibaly told the station. He boasted that he had already killed four people, and police said he was threatening to shoot more if they staged a raid against his accomplices in Dammartin.
In fact, Coulibaly had significantly more hostages than he knew: the ones who had dashed into the cold-storage room had apparently escaped his detection.
But Noemi and the others huddled inside had no way of knowing that. They felt a jolt of apprehension with every sound from above, and they scoured the storage-room floor for empty boxes and other possible places to hide.
"Don't panic," Ravaux told Noemi, whose last name he did not want to reveal, when she reached him by phone. "The police will do their best."
Ravaux, who himself had walked out of the store five minutes before Coulibaly burst in, told her to conserve her phone's battery, and the two hung up.
Within minutes, the streets echoed with three loud booms as police tossed stun grenades and began their assault. After a pause, the earth shook with 30 seconds of sustained gunfire. Blocks away, parents shepherded screaming children into the shelter of nearby doorways.
And then, silence.
More than an hour after the raid, Ravaux said he believed that his friend had survived. But he could not reach her by phone.
"I hope she's with the police," he said.
Officials said that the Paris raid and a nearly simultaneous shootout with the Kouachi brothers in Dammartin left all three assailants dead, allowing the surviving hostages to go free. In his speech to the nation, Hollande praised law enforcement officers for their work and said France would not be divided by racism or anti-Semitism.
But on the streets of Porte de Vincennes, residents expressed a gnawing fear that the events of the past three days had unleashed a wave of violence with no end.