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FRANCE

Man eluded Charlie Hebdo attackers by hiding under sink

Video screen grab of France 2 television interview with Lilian Lepère, January 12, 2015
3 min

A print works in the town of Dammartin-en-Goële became the setting of a dramatic standoff last week between French police and the two gunmen behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre, with the gunmen unaware that someone was hiding in the building.

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Lilian Lepère, 26, hid underneath a leaky sink for over eight hours on Friday before special police forces launched a final siege against the Kalashnikov-wielding Kouachi brothers and freed him.

The young graphic designer squeezed into a cabinet space under a sink in the company’s lunchroom and curled up in the foetal position to hide from the Charlie Hebdo attackers, who had been on the run from police for 48 hours.

Spotted in the northern Aisne region the previous day, Cherif and Said Kouachi were tracked by police to an industrial park in the small town of Dammartin, around 40 kilometres from Paris and home to the family-run printing business.

“I hid in a cabinet with double doors, next to the drain. It’s not a very big space, about 70cm by 90cm, and 50cm deep,” Lepère told FRANCE 2 television on Monday evening, in the first interview since his harrowing experience.

“If I made even the smallest movement either the doors would open on one side, or I would hit the wall on the other side,” he said, explaining the gunmen had chosen the adjacent room, his employer’s office, as their main location.

‘Hollywood’ moment

Lepère remembered one particularly close call. “At one point one of the two men opened a cabinet just next to mine. I thought ‘he’s going to go through all the cabinets. If he’s looking for something he is going to go through all the cabinets,” he recalled.

“He went to the fridge and then came back towards where I was hiding. Then he started drinking from the sink just above me,” said Lepère.

“I could hear the water running just next to my head, I could see his shadow through the crack between the doors. The sink leaks so I started to feel water running across my back. It was surreal. I was thinking ‘this is like the movies, this only happens in movies,” he added.

After hiding there for around four hours, Lepère said he eventually decided to take advantage of the noise of ringing telephones in the office to reach for his mobile phone, wedged in his trouser pocket.

“I said to myself, ‘even if I make a sound I have to take the risk’,” he remembered. Now cupping his phone, Lepère said he started sending text messages to several friends and family members, hoping to get through to someone.

The mole

Lepère’s brother-in-law eventually helped to put him in direct contact with police officers overseeing the siege. “I had tears in my eyes. My morale picked up… knowing I was in contact with people outside,” he said.

The graphic designer then shared whatever information he could with police, trying to determine the gunmen’s movements from the noises he could hear and his knowledge of the premises. However, it was another four hours before special forces finally burst inside, gunning down the two assailants.

The Kouachi brothers never knew police were being tipped off from someone inside the building.

Speaking on live television on Monday, Lepère thanked his boss, who also survived the dramatic episode unscathed: “He slowed them down and gave me the precious seconds I needed to hide. If they had found me, we would have been two hostages and maybe things would have turned out differently.”

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