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 Friday.
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.
The employee — a 26-year-old graphic designer named Lilian, according to a source close to the investigation — was “terrified”, Molin 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.
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.
Another source said the hidden employee was also able to communicate with a family member via text.
– Cold fear –
Some 40 kilometres away, shortly before 1:00 pm, 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 told AFP.
At least three other people were with them, according to sources close to the investigation.
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.
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.