Quick-thinking hostages ‘texted with police’, hid in fridge under Charlie Hebdo gunmen’s noses
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 praised the quick instincts of survivors in the hostage incidents that gripped France on Friday.
At the printworks office besieged by two gunmen believed to have carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre, one employee took refuge under a sink in the canteen upstairs and, though terrified, overcame his fear and communicated with police outside via text message.
The employee, 26-year-old graphic designer named Lilian, sent police “tactical elements such as his location inside the premises”, a source said.
Lilian could hear the suspects talking, which both helped reassure him and gave him more information to send to the forces outside, the source said. Another source said the hidden employee was also able to communicate with a family member via text.
The gunmen – identified as brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, who had been on the run since allegedly slaughtering 12 people at the weekly magazine Charle Hebdo‘s offices in Paris on Wednesday – had been cornered at the printing office after a firefight with police which Paris prosecutor Francois 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.
Some 40 kilometres away, shortly before 1pm, a father named 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 told AFP.
At least 3 other people were with them, according to sources close to the investigation.
Ilan, in his 30s, 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.
By the end of the siege, four hostages would be dead.
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 Friday and his mother was recovering after several hours of anguish.