“I stopped breathing”: the former employee of the Dammartin-en-Goële printing press where the Kouachi brothers had taken refuge told the Paris Assizes on Wednesday how he had remained hidden “without moving” for eight hours under a sink, thanks to the “sacrifice” of his boss.
“It’s them, they have Kalashnikovs. Go hide, I’m going.” This January 9, 2015, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, tracked down since the massacre committed at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo two days earlier, have just ringed the intercom of Michel Catalano’s printing press, in Seine-et-Marne.
Lilian, a young graphic designer from the company, complies and, “without hesitation”, “decides to hide under the sink”. “Great good for me, I had thought about it the day before if they ever came here,” he confides in front of the special assize court, in a weak voice.
“Curled up” in a part of the tiny kitchen cabinet, stuck near flasks and maintenance equipment, it will remain hidden “eight and a half hours” until its release around 5:00 p.m. by the GIGN, which has just killed the two terrorists.
During the long hours of anguish spent in his hiding place, paralyzed by the fear of being discovered, “I had only one point of reference: my ears”, explains, tense, the young man, checked shirt and hair. long hair in a bun.
In the next room, he hears “snatches of conversations” between Michel Catalano and the hostage takers, and what sounds like “sermons”. Then the sound of the coffee machine and “footsteps” moving towards him.
Lilian has his first fear: he thinks of “an inspection”, of his “coat” and his “bag” which have remained on a chair.
“My heart stopped beating. I stopped breathing. The slightest gesture I made could have opened the door because I was really glued to the door. Then I heard the door close and the footsteps. leave. I felt a relief, “recalls the graphic designer, civil party at the trial.
– “He’s my hero” –
The relief was short-lived: looking for food for himself and his brother injured by a response shot from a gendarme, one of the Kouachi brothers approached “30 centimeters” from the cubicle where he was hidden, leaving Lilian “paralyzed”.
“He washed his hands, there was water everywhere. I was only afraid that he would see the water flowing and open the door”, testifies the young man, melting in tears at the bar.
Hours pass, his phone vibrates more and more with worried calls from his relatives, and, under the sink, Lilian “curls up even more”. Contacted by a GIGN official, he implores: “Hurry”.
Finally comes the assault. Fearing to be killed during an exchange of fire, the young graphic designer contradicts the orders to “not move” and “crawl” out of his hiding place.
Outside, Michel Catalano, finally released by the Kouachi brothers, is “in total apnea”. Until this radio message: “Targets neutralized, hostage alive”. “There, I breathed, finally,” said the manager of the printing house earlier in the afternoon.
Hands clinging to the bar, Mr. Catalano claims to have “taken a lot on (him) that day to remain as calm as possible”. “My goal was that they could not find Lilian”, explains the entrepreneur.
Lilian joined his company at the age of 19 and is “kind, reserved”. “I wish he hadn’t been here that day so much,” adds Catalano, his eyes cloudy and his throat tight.
Equally moved, his former employee paid tribute to him: “Michel sacrificed himself for me. Michel is my hero, he is the one who saved my life”.
Five years later, Lilian is still “afraid in the stations, the terminals, the metro”. Michel Catalano has succeeded in re-establishing his business, destroyed during the intervention of the GIGN, but lives “on credit”.
Fourteen people – including three in their absence – are on trial until November 10 for their logistical support to the Kouachi brothers and Amédy Coulibaly, perpetrators of the attacks that killed 17 people in January 2015 and caused fear in the world.