“IN MY OPINION, IT’S THE SHABBAT THAT SAVED US!”
At 5:01 p.m., the intervention forces launch an assault at the Hyper Cacher. At 5:15 p.m., the first hostages released are directed to the BRI (Search and Intervention Brigade) armored car. © Nicolas GOUHIER/ABACA
January 19, 2015 | Update on January 19, 2015 REMARKS GATHERED BY Léa Baucaire/Agence Press’Systèmes
Zarie is 22 years old. she is the famous cashier at the Hyper Cacher super market located in Porte de Vincennes and one of the hostages in the bloody attack that unfolded on friday, january 9, 2015. In an exclusive interview with Paris Match, she agreed to recount her four-hour nightmare spent under the threat of the terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly. She showed an unfailing composure, without ever renouncing the faith that allowed her to remain strong during that tragic event. she offers a heart-stopping statement.
Paris-Match: Zarie, you work at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes. How did the attack begin?
Zarie. It was between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. A father with a two-year-old child was going through my line when I heard the gunshot fired at Yohann (Cohen, ed. note), the young man who works with me, and the first to be hit. He cried out the name of the owner who, wounded, managed to get out of the store. I did not understand right away that it was a real gunshot.
You were not hit?
No. I heard gunshots and screams, then steps that were coming toward me. I heard the killer’s voice that said to me, “You – you’re not dead yet?” And the sound of a gunshot in my direction.
How many people were in the supermarket?
There were 25 of us at the beginning, but after the shots, no more than six people remained next to me. I figured out that the others were hiding. The terrorist ordered me to help him and I asked him not to kill anyone else. When I went into the office where he herded us, I saw a man lying in a pool of blood (Philippe Braham, ed. note). For the first time I saw the terrorist’s face and his weapons.
What did he say to you?
He told us about his “plans.” “I want to die a martyr and avenge the name of Allah. The difference between us is that for you Jews, the most important thing is life, while for us, it is death.” Then he told us to put all our things and our pieces of identification on the desk. He told me to close the glass door of the store. I was getting ready to do that when I saw a man who was trying to come in. I begged him to leave in a panicked voice. But he thought I was just closing up the store. He told me, “I only need a challah for Shabbat!” I could not stop him or warn him that there was a killer right behind me.
“Yohann was suffering horribly. He was moaning and there was nothing we could do for him”
Was it François-Michel Saada?
Yes. He headed toward the challah bread, and thus, without realizing it, toward the terrorist. When he realized that there was an armed man there, he turned around to leave, but the killer shot him in the back.
So at this point there were two people dead?
Yes.… And Yohann was suffering horribly. He was moaning and there was nothing we could do for him. In fact, he had taken a bullet in the cheek that completely tore up his face. He lay dying for three quarters of an hour. It was absolutely horrible. He bled to death.
And the killer did nothing?
Yes, he wanted to finish him off because of his moaning, but we stopped him from doing it, thinking that he might pull through. The terrorist was armed with two kalachnikovs and a machine gun slung over his shoulder, explosives, tons of ammunition, and a knife. He ordered me to go down and look for the other customers, giving me 20 seconds to do it or else he would kill two women he had designated.
Did you go down to the cold storage rooms?
Yes, some had hidden there, but didn’t want to come back up. I went to tell him and he asked me to call the police, putting us on speaker phone. By dialing 17, we got connected to the central telephone office. We waited a long time, which was crazy, in light of the situation. Finally, he explained that it was a hostage taking and the policewoman told him she had to report it to her superiors. The conversation was interrupted because customers were starting to come back up.
Did the killer explain his motives to you?
Yes, he explained that his commando had been split in two: the Kouachi brothers to wipe out Charlie Hebdo and him to take care of the police and us. He sent someone else who went down to get the customers hidden downstairs and two or three people came back up with one of them, Yoav (Hattab, ed. note). Yoav began to analyze the situation, in order to act. He did not see the dead and did not really realize what the situation was. At that moment, I drew back. Yoav started to talk to the killer, who had set down one of the two kalachnikovs, and tried to grab one from him. But the terrorist was quicker and shot him twice in the head. I was a few meters away and someone told me to raise the metal shutter, something that takes several minutes. The terrorist started to shout in my direction. Yoav fell, doubled over, and there was an enormous amount of blood, I have never seen so much. I thought the terrorist was going to kill me, but he told me to follow him into the office. I had to push the shopping cart that was supporting Yoav, who then collapsed.
“Coulibaly had just coldly killed four people but he was surprised that we were frightened”
How many hostages were there?
There were then 18 of us. I know because he told me to take a count. He was talking to the police and announced that there were three dead and one wounded. We all sat down on shopping carts lined up in the last section of the store at the back. The killer sat down and started to talk to us. He asked us to state our names and religions. Everyone was Jewish except for one woman who was Catholic, and an elderly woman who said she was not Jewish. He made fun of her, saying “If you’re not Jewish, why are you shopping at Hyper Cacher? I am from Mali and a Muslim. I came to avenge my brothers against the French State that you support by paying your taxes.” While loading his weapons, he told us that the French army was killing people in his country but that no one was talking about it. We thought that our time was up. In fact, he wanted his hostage taking to get media coverage. He called BFM TV and left us free enough that I was able to call my father, who reassured me and advised me to pray. I then talked to my mother and that upset me a lot. I started to cry. She told me to find strength in emunah (faith). I then explained to Andréa (the other cashier, ed. note) that we were going to make it, but that we needed to find strength in mitsvot (commandments). Next to us, a woman was not at all stressed out and told us that everything was in the hands of Hashem (the divine providence), for the good. I recited the Psalm “essa enaï el heharim” (Psalm 121), this is the first one that came to mind. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, to see where my help comes from. My help comes from the Eternal, who made heaven and earth.”
The window of Hyper Cacher, riddled with bullet holes.© Reuters
Did he leave you alone?
In fact, the hostage taking lasted almost five hours and a limited trust was established. He let us move around relatively freely and after telling someone to break all the store cameras, he suggested that we drink something. He started to give us another speech on the geopolitical situation and we were going along with him in order to appease him. At one point, he aimed his weapon at Andréa, who put her hands in front of her for protection. But he reassured her by saying, “I’m not going to shoot you!” He had just coldly killed four people, but he was surprised that we were frightened. Fortunately there were a number of us. We supported each other when one of us was breaking down. I encouraged the hostages to make good resolutions and to find strength in abiding by the Torah.
“AFTER HIS SPEECH, HE DECIDED TO PRAY. WE WERE AFRAID THAT WAS THE END FOR US”
Was he violent with you?
His attitude was very strange. He went back and forth between the ruthless crime and a reassuring tone. He repeated that if he got what he wanted, he would not kill us. He wanted to make a statement to the media calling on the French army to withdraw from all the countries where it was carrying out operations and demanding the release of the Kouachi brothers hidden in the print shop. I thought we were never going to get out alive, in light of the terms of his demands. He said that if he was allowed to make his statement on television, he would let the two-year-old child go. In the meantime, it was Aviel, the security manager (who was not one of the hostages), who gave information on the situation to the police. He was the one who called the police and gave them the layout of the store, the location of the exits, etc. Patrice, the owner, who had managed to escape at the beginning, had been taken to the hospital in serious condition.
The terrorist talked to us at length about the media, Bin Laden, etc., and told us his background: he had just gotten out of prison for terrorism after four years, even though he had been sentenced to five years. We started to give people something to drink. He watched us while he made himself a sandwich. He was making jokes about the store giving things for free. The phone rang endlessly. When we answered, people asked us what the situation was. At one point, we got a call from a man who was incensed with the terrorist, who was making Muslims look like assassins. We disconnected the phone. It was the waiting. In the store, there was blood everywhere.
Were the police at the site?
We didn’t know what was happening outside. At the beginning, the killer had asked me where the emergency door was and ordered someone to block it. After his speech, he decided to pray. We were afraid that was the end for us. Then we heard banging on the barricaded emergency door. We took refuge on the other side, behind Andréa’s register. We didn’t know what else to do. It was total panic. We all got down on the ground, hands on our heads. We heard four gunshots, then banging on the door.
Was that the end?
There was a strong explosion and the police opened the metal shutter with a wrench. That lasted several minutes, an eternity in that situation and in light of the fact that the terrorist could have done away with us in a few seconds. It’s a miracle that he did not shoot at us. The police entered with shields. And then we heard some fifty gunshots, a deafening noise. We heard, “He is dead!” and everyone came out. I knew there were still people downstairs and they saw the carnage when they came up. We got into a bus, with the victims on our minds. We realized we had experienced a miracle because we were safe.
What message would you like to give after this terrifying attack?
For me, the central message is emunah, faith in God. The terrorist was armed to the teeth and we got out nevertheless. It was only emunah that allowed us to keep a semblance of normalcy, talking, moving around, doing things. I was able to pray throughout the hostage taking. I, who live most of the time in Israel, I pray that my relatives will very quickly be able to come to the land of Israel. Everything unfolded before the Sabbath and we were released less than an hour after the Sabbath began. In my opinion, our rescue is connected with the Sabbath lights. I hope people can light candles very soon, putting all their devotion there. In my opinion, it’s the Sabbath that saved us.
Read other accounts of the hostage taking in Porte de Vincennes in Paris Match in a special edition on newsstands on Tuesday, January 20, and in a digital edition on iPad
“IN MY OPINION, IT’S THE SHABBAT THAT SAVED US!”
“IN MY OPINION, IT’S THE SHABBAT THAT SAVED US!”