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'My life turned to horror after being Paris hostage'

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Hostages flee from the Jewish supermarket. Photo: AFP
08:54 CET+01:00
Almost one year to the day since he was forced to hide out in the icy cold room of a Jewish supermarket, Yohan Dorai has broken his silence about Amedy Coulibaly's bloody attack last January.

On Tuesday Dorai visited the store for the first time since four fellow members of the Jewish community were gunned down in cold blood in January 9th 2015.

Visibly shaken and on edge, Dorai found the courage to return to the bunker of the store's cold room, where he and other shoppers had remained still and silent for four hours while jihadist gunman armed to the teeth roamed around upstairs.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Dorai told The Local outside the store on Tuesday.

“What happened changed my life. I think about it every day, all the time at any moment. I don't want to go out on to the streets because I am scared.”

“It was incredibly hard to return here today,” Dorai said. “I went down to the freezer where we had sat for hours and all the bad memories came flooding back.

“I speak to the people who were in there with me every day. They have become like brothers and sisters to me,” he said.

Dorai and his wife Sevrine. Photo: The Local

Dorai, like the other shoppers, simply found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The father of four had never shopped at the store and never even been to the Porte de Vincennes but on the fateful morning of January 9th found himself popping in.

As he strolled through the small store to pick up some last minute goods to take on a ski trip, Coulibaly burst in all guns blazing. Three people were killed immediately.

A fourth later on.

In a new book about the ordeal to be published this week, Dorai writes how he first realised they were in danger when his friend Rudy yelled the words ‘Kalash! Kalash'.

“In a split second my life turned into a horror," he writes.

The entrance to the freezer room. Photo: The Local

Dorai and several others, including a father with a young baby, fled the shop floor and headed downstairs via a door at the back. It was there they met one of the heroes of the day, staff member Lassana Bathily.

The Malian-born Muslim urged them to use the goods elevator to escape.

When no one wanted to take the risk, he ushered them into the refrigerated room, flicking off the light and the motor.

One of those who hid downstairs was 21-year-old Yoav Hattab. Hattab, however, went back upstairs when Coulibaly sent down orders for those hiding to return to the shop floor.

At one point Coulibaly left his Kalashnikov on the counter. Hattab grabbed it, turned it towards the terrorist, but it didn't fire. He was shot immediately.

Dorai says he can still see Hatab's face and has dedicated his book to the “true hero of the hostage siege”.

It was only once they were in the relative safety of the cold room that Dorai was able to send a message to his wife Sevrine to alert her what had happened.

Photo: The Local

He kept sending me updates via text message, saying he was cold,” Sevrine told The Local. “I was at work. I couldn't move because of fear. I just watched what was happening on television.”

Sevrine eventually arrived at the scene in a police car, once the elite Swat team had stormed in and shot Coulibaly as he said his afternoon prayers.

Dorai's wife say the couple have tried to avoid talking about the traumatic event to try not transmit their own fears to the children.

But she says her husband is still deeply traumatised.

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“It still affects him greatly. Being a typical man he doesn't really talk about what happened, but every Friday, the day of the attack, you can see he becomes very anxious."

“The attacks on November brought everything back. As Jews we were already scared but now everyone is targeted."

But with the publication of his book Dorai has also for the first time been unable to avoid to attention of the media. As he toured the store followed by French TV crews, Dorai looked like he would give anything to return to normality.

But he knows it will be a struggle.

Photo: The Local

“I can't imagine ever going back to normal and shop here again. I feel it's too dangerous and I just don't want to,” he told The Local.

“I just don't feel safe now in France and I never had those thoughts before.”

In one of the more powerful lines in his book Dorai writes: “For the first time in our lives, we fear that every minute could be the last. We have no future.”

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