French trial of 2015 terror attacks in Paris: Testimonies of survivors

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Witnesses and relatives of the four Hyper Cacher victims — Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Michel Saada and Philippe Braham — spoke before the court.

Le supermarché Hypercasher où s'est déroulé le drame (photo credit: DR)

Le supermarché Hypercasher où s’est déroulé le drame

(photo credit: DR)

As the French trial of the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris opened at the beginning of September, the testimonies of the kosher supermarket victims’ families and hostages took place.

One after the other, those affected by the terrible killings of the kosher supermarket in Paris were recounting their part of the story, their feelings as well as how the last few years were impacted by this tragic attack that either robbed them of a loved one, or left an unerasable trauma on their memory.

During Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s proceedings, witnesses and relatives of the four Hyper Cacher victims — Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Michel Saada and Philippe Braham — spoke before the court.

The father of Yohan Cohen, one of the four victims murdered by the Islamist gunman Coulibaly, broke down during court testimony on Tuesday as he recalled the virulent antisemitism behind the atrocity.

“Why this gratuitous wickedness, why this hatred of the Jew?” screamed Eric Cohen before the Paris courtroom where 14 suspects in the three days of terrorist attacks that gripped the French capital are currently on trial.

Cohen remembered that on the day of the attack, while terribly worried for Yohan, he was given the incorrect news that there had been no fatalities during the siege at the market. “I told myself that I would see my son again, that was huge.”

In fact, it was discovered that at the time of the siege, the media didn’t know about the victims, and that the terrorist himself called the television’s channels to establish the number of dead and hostages.

“He didn’t notice to read on the TV that there were only hostages and no dead,” explained police commander Christian Deau at the proceedings, a police commander.

Tragically, Yohan’s father continued, adding that “half an hour later, we were told there had been four deaths…it was a punishment twice over.”

“It’s not just a child who died, it’s a whole family that died,” declared in from of the court Yohan’s uncle. “Today I hope that we will find the culprits [guilty]. Taking people’s lives, there is nothing more terrible.”

As the details of the siege were laid out before the courtroom, Cohen and other relatives heard of how Yohan, who was shot immediately by the terrorist Amedy Coulibaly, took more than three hours to die from his wounds. Coulibaly at one point asked the other hostages whether they wanted him to “finish off” Cohen, in order to silence his moans.

The trial also learned of the heroism of Yoav Hattab, a shopper at the market who tried to snatch one of the automatic rifles being carried by Coulibaly, which happened not to be working, and was shot dead by the terrorist as he did so.

“The hostages were released, but not my son Yoav — he tried to kill Amedy Coulibaly,” Binyamin Hattab, father of Yoav, told the court.

“My son was shot in the head, he was 21 years old. Our life has changed since. We had a very difficult time,” Binyamin said. “I lived with the Muslims in Tunis. The Muslim community in Tunis, they cried with me. For my son. They are my brothers.”

“I can’t forget what happened. I can’t stand it. Why the hatred?,” he added. “My son came into the store and bought a bottle of wine that cost him life”.

“I am proud of my son, there is a commandment to save human beings,” he reminisced. “I ask for justice for the people who hurt my son. They tore me apart. I want them to have what they deserve.”

Yoav is buried in Jerusalem.

The sister of murdered victim Michel Saada recalled in her testimony that her brother had often expressed concern at rising antisemitism in France. He used to tell her that “you can’t stay in France anymore if you’re a Jew.”
“That sentence, it keeps coming back to me,” Annie-Laure Saada said.

“He was very lucid about what was happening in France, in Europe,” she said, “and particularly about the threat of antisemitism. He was preparing to go and settle permanently in Israel, to be close to his children, and yet he loved France viscerally.”

Valerie Braham, the wife of victim Phillipe Braham, cried before the court as she described the impact of her husband’s murder upon their young family.

“My husband was my rock, and I died with him,” Mrs. Braham said.

“When the assault happened, I looked at the screen. I even thought that I saw him. We were told by the police that there were victims, later that there were no victim. Everything was turned upside down. I called the people, the hospitals, no one could answer me. The president of the community knew, I didn’t know, how to find out the truth. I saw my brother-in-law chatting with him and I understood, but I didn’t want to.”

“I said, ‘But what’s going on?’…”

“My brother-in-law couldn’t even look at me,” she remembered, in tears. “I didn’t believe it. Until I saw him, I couldn’t believe it.”

She said that her children “know that it was a bad man who killed their father but they don’t understand why.”

“My children are growing up without their daddy, our last child doesn’t even remember him.”

The court also heard testimony from two workers at the Hyper Cacher — Zarie Sibony, a cashier, and Lassana Bathily, a market assistant.

Sibony remembered the scene with the terrorist, saying: “I saw the bodies of Yohan and Mr. Braham. I thought he was doing it for money. I offered him to take it all. He laughed and said to me: ‘you really think I came for money!’”

He explained her “that he was part of the same team as the Kouachi, that they had coordinated,” the Kouachi being the terrorists who massacred 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo two days previously

Then she recalled that he told her: “You Jews love life too much, you think life is the most important, while death is the most important,” adding that he intended to die as a “martyr.”

“I wanted to survive,” said Sibony, adding “I was going to do everything to survive. Whatever he was going to ask of me I was going to do it.”

She remembered Coulibaly telling her “You are the two things I hate most in the world, you are Jews, and you are French.”

Sibony described the terrorist, who was killed by police at the end of the siege, as cold-blooded and contemptuous toward his victims for the duration.

Coulibaly interrogated all the hostages at the market, asking them their religious affiliations, she said. All but two were Jewish.

“You have chosen the wrong day to go shopping in a kosher store,” he told the group.
Lassana Bathily’s testimony centered meanwhile on his own role sheltering hostages in the toilet and storage rooms in the basement of the market while Coulibaly was upstairs.
“It was a Jewish store, I was a practicing Muslim, but there was no problem, everyone respected each other,” Bathily recounted.

Bathily said he remembered Yohan Cohen,his fellow employee from 2013, as a “brother.”

Originated from Mali, like Coulibaly, Bathily received French citizenship in recognition of his heroism in protecting the hostages.

Francis Kalifat, President of the Crif, organization for Jewish communities in France, declared that: “It was important to remember that these victims of antisemitism are not the only ones.”

He quotes the names of Sébastien Selam, Ilan Hamili, the names of the Jewish victims of Mohamed Merah, Jonathan Sandler, his two sons Arieh and Gabriel, aged 5 and 3 respectively, as well as Myriam Monsonego, 7, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Michel Saada, Philippe Braham, Sarah Halimi, Mireille Knoll.

“All murdered on the grounds that they ‘were Jews.”

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