The gunman who stormed a Paris kosher supermarket in a gruesome attack in January 2015 had “no empathy whatsoever”, a former police chief told a court in the French capital on Monday, as victims and their loved ones relived the horror of the final chapter in a three-day killing spree that shocked the world.
Amedy Coulibaly had already killed a police agent the day before he stormed the Hyper Cacher store in eastern Paris on January 9, 2015, killing four people and taking dozens more hostage.
“He was cold, determined (…) with no empathy whatsoever for the victims,” Christian Deau, a former head of the Paris anti-terror police, testified on Monday at the trial of 14 suspects accused of aiding the perpetrators of the January 2015 attacks.
Deau insisted on the “cruelty” and “violence” of the 32-year-old jihadist, who claimed to be acting in the name of the Islamic State (IS) group.
After a standoff lasting four hours, Coulibaly was eventually shot dead in a firefight with police.
His death marked the epilogue of three days of bloodshed that started on January 7, 2015, when two brothers – Saïd and Chérif Kouachi – stormed into Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices, killing 12 people, including some of France’s most prominent cartoonists.
More than five years after those terrifying days, 14 suspects – including three in absentia who may be dead – are on trial for allegedly assisting in the terror attacks, including supplying weapons and financing to the three jihadists.
After dwelling at length on the Charlie Hebdo killings, the trial has now shifted its focus to Coulibaly’s Hyper Cacher rampage, which was described in chilling detail at Monday’s hearing, said FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent, reporting from the Paris court house.
“There were screenshots, police photographs and a readout of words from the attacker himself,” said Norris-Trent. “At one point, the court was shown pictures of a man who tried to stop Amedy Coulibaly by seizing one of his weapons, but who was shot dead when the gun jammed.”
Deau, the police officer, described the extraordinary difficulty of simultaneously handling the hostage crisis and a standoff with the Kouachi brothers, who were holed up in a print workshop in a northern suburb of Paris.
He stressed the extent of Coulibaly’s arsenal of weapons, which included an assault rifle, several pistols and enough dynamite sticks “to bring down the whole building”.
Once the Kouachi brothers had been “neutralised”, police promptly raided the supermarket and confronted Coulibaly. Had they waited any longer, the gunman might have “exacted revenge” on the hostages, Deau told the court.
His account will be followed on Tuesday by the first testimonies from survivors of the Hyper Cacher shootings.
“A lot of these victims are still traumatised more than five years on from the attack,” said FRANCE 24’s Norris-Trent. “Some of the customers of the kosher store have since relocated to Israel saying they could no longer live in France after these attacks.”
They include Zarie Sibony, who was at her check-out counter at the Hyper Cacher when Coulibaly burst through the doors.
“I heard a shot on my right, and that was when the terrorist killed Mr Braham, who was waiting in my line,” Sibony told AFP ahead of her hearing, recalling the start of “the most horrible four hours of my life”.
“I remember thinking that I had only one goal: to survive, to get out of there alive,” she said. “I was going to do whatever it took.”
Sibony, now 28, said she almost did not make it to Paris for the trial from her new home in Israel, having had to wait for Covid-19 test results and missing her original flight.
Testifying is her chance to “represent the voices” of the victims, she said, though reliving the trauma will not be easy.