A father who saved the life of his young son and kept hostages’ morale up during the Kosher grocery store ordeal has been described as the “bravest of us all” by survivors as it emerged jihadi gunman Amedy Coulibaly was eventually killed in a hail of more than 40 bullets by French security forces.
The father, known only as Ilan, was with his young son in the Jewish food shop when the armed gunman burst in at 1pm on Friday and opened fire with one of the two Kalashnikov rifles he was armed with.
Coulibaly, 32, who was a close of associate of brothers Cherif and Said Kouchai – architects of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, killed four of the 17 hostages before dying in a hail of 40 bullets when French security police stormed the building shortly after killing the Kouchai brothers. It is believed that the attacks were coordinated.
Hearing the shots and screams, a group fled downstairs to the back storeroom where they huddled together. Not believing they would survive, they used their time to make last phone calls to family and loved ones.
“There were two men with me – one had his three-year-old son with him – and maybe two women, also a baby. There were perhaps five or six of us,” said a woman identified only as Deborah, who was shopping for food to celebrate Sabbath when the gunman attacked.
“The father did everything he could to protect his son, keep him warm and also reassure the rest of us.”
“He was the bravest of us all,” she said.
A man identified as Michael B, shopping with his son when he heard the gunshots, grabbed his son and headed with the others downstairs, he said the group was “terrified”.
It was then that Mr B witnessed Mr Cohen act of heroism – and watched him die. The gunman used Mr B’s phone to communicate with the media, but Mr B secretly made contact with the police, who told him and other hostages to lie flat on the ground when the attack came.
A member of the French police, named only as ‘Stan’, told Le Parisien that prior to the attack they had been able to contact some of the hostages.
“We had managed to make telephone contact with one of the clients who was hiding in the cold store in the basement. They told us that there was a one-month-old baby inside that room. The baby would only have survived for two hours inside there. But we were able to cut the electricity.”
It was pictures of Belgium Sarah Bitton’s 11-month child, wrapped in her coat, that later captivated the world as more individual tales of heroism.
The actions of 22-year-old shop worker Yohan Cohen – who tried to grab Coulibaly’s gun and was immediately killed – and that of Lassana Bathily who guided the terrified shoppers to the freezer, saving their lives.
Mr Bathily, a Muslim of Malian descent, told French newspapers he guided a group of men, women and two young children to the freezer where he closed the door and told them to keep quiet.
He was able to escape and provide the police with valuable information on the situation in the shop.
Over three million people, including world leaders, took to the streets of France yesterday to remember the victims of the bloodiest terror attacks France has endured in years.
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