Paris attacks: Print works owner taken hostage by Charlie Hebdo killers 'gave gunmen coffee and bandaged wounds'

'Perhaps they had an ounce of humanity because they let me out'

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The Independent Online

A business owner who was taken hostage by the Charlie Hebdo killers has described how, convinced he was going to die anyway, he gave the gunmen coffee and treated their wounds while helping a colleague remain hidden.

Speaking about his terrifying ordeal for the first time, Michel Catalano said he saw Cherif and Said Kouachi walking towards his printing works armed with a rocket launcher and assault rifles and thought: “This is the end.”

With the gunmen approaching, Mr Catalano told employee Lilian Lepere to get to safety and then went to meet the brothers himself. He says they asked him three times if he was alone, and each time he said he was.

Mr Catalano said he saw one of the brothers was wounded and, in an attempt to calm him offered to bandage the “superficial” injury.

The gunmen eventually let Mr Catalano go, while Mr Lepere relayed information via text to police from the box where he was hiding.

Mr Catalano had been preparing for an ordinary day of business on Friday, unaware that his factory was to be the scene of the brothers’ bloody last stand.

He said: “I could see from a window that there was a man with a rocket launcher and a Kalashnikov.

“I could immediately see there was a situation of danger. I told my employee to hide. I knew two of us couldn't hide.

“At that point I thought that was the end. They came in, they weren't aggressive. They said ‘don't worry, we just want to come in’.”

He offered the intruders a drink and made coffee for them before one of his suppliers arrived at around 9am.

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Said and Cherif Kouachi, aged 34 and 32

“I told those people that my supplier really had nothing to do there so could they let him go, so they did.

“So then we went down and went towards my supplier. I told him to leave so he immediately understood the situation so he left.”

He described how he was worried that the Kouachis would find his employee's hiding place.

“I didn't know where Lilian was hidden. I knew he was hidden but I had no idea where. I didn't want them to go to the end of the building.”

Mr Catalano said he dressed a superficial wound that one of the brothers had sustained.

He recalled: “When I thought one of them was tense I said ‘I can look after you’.”

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Police and army forces take positions in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast Paris, as part of an operation to seize two heavily armed suspects

They rejected his request to leave once before eventually agreeing before the dramatic police assault on the building during which the brothers died.

He said: “I wasn't scared. I don't know how I managed to stay calm under those circumstances - it was obviously a situation I have never been faced with before in my life.

“After all, right from the start, I imagined I wouldn't be alive any longer (at the end of the day).

“I must admit that in fact they (the brothers) weren't aggressive as far as I was concerned.

“I didn't get the impression they would harm me, as unbelievable as it sounds. Perhaps they had an ounce of humanity because they let me out.”

Additional reporting by PA