Hidden worker aided police after Charlie Hebdo killers arrived

Businessman taken hostage by Kouachi brothers says employee kept out of their sight

Soldiers patrol next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, on January 10th, 2015. The level of alert on  terrorism is still at its peak the day before a national unity rally  in Paris in the wake  the killings at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

Soldiers patrol next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, on January 10th, 2015. The level of alert on terrorism is still at its peak the day before a national unity rally in Paris in the wake the killings at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

 

A businessman taken hostage by the Charlie Hebdo killers has described how he kept a colleague from their clutches in an act of heroism which helped police end the siege.

Michel Catalano has spoken for the first time about his ordeal after Cherif and Said Kouachi turned his printing works into the scene of their bloody last stand after three days on the run.

He described how he told an employee to hide in the back of the building when from the window he saw the gunmen arriving.

Unknown to the brothers, the man, named as Lilian Lepere, relayed secret information to police while hiding in a box before they stormed the industrial site in Dammartin-en-Goele, near Paris, France. The fugitives were killed during the assault.

Hidden worker

Mr Catalano, who said he did not expect to live beyond Friday night, told how he was “terrified” throughout the ordeal that the brothers would discover the hidden worker.

Mr Catalano had been preparing for an ordinary day of business when the doorbell rang at around 8.30am.

He said: “I could see from a window that there was a man with a rocket launcher and a Kalashnikov.

“I could immediately see there was a situation of danger. I told my employee to hide. I knew two of us couldn’t hide.

“At that point I thought that was the end. They came in, they weren’t aggressive. They said ‘Don’t worry, we just want to come in’.”

Made coffee

He offered the intruders a drink and made coffee for them before one of his suppliers arrived at about 9pm.

“I told those people that my supplier really had nothing to do there so could they let him go, so they did.

“So then we went down and went towards my supplier. I told him to leave so he immediately understood the situation so he left.”

He described how he was worried that the Kouachis would find his employee’s hiding place.

“I didn’t know where Lilian was hidden. I knew he was hidden but I had no idea where. I didn’t want them to go to the end of the building.”

Mr Catalano said he dressed a superficial wound that one of the brothers had sustained.

He recalled: “When I thought one of them was tense I said ‘I can look after you’.”

Police assault

They rejected his request to leave once before eventually agreeing before the dramatic police assault on the building during which the brothers died.

He said: “I wasn’t scared. I don’t know how I managed to stay calm under those circumstances - it was a situation I have never been faced with before in my life.

“After all, right from the start, I imagined I wouldn’t be alive any longer [at the end of the day].

“I must admit that in fact they [the brothers] weren’t aggressive as far as I was concerned.

“I didn’t get the impression they would harm me, as unbelievable as it sounds. Perhaps they had an ounce of humanity because they let me out.”

Press Association