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September 22, 2020 4:08 pm

‘Why This Hatred of The Jew?’ Father of Murdered Kosher Market Victim’s Agonized Question at French Terror Trial

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Police officers and court officials at the trial of 14 suspects in the January 2015 Islamist terror attacks in Paris. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau.

The father of one of the four victims murdered by an Islamist gunman at a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015 broke down during court testimony on Tuesday as he recalled the virulent antisemitism behind the atrocity.

“Why this gratuitous wickedness, why this hatred of the Jew?” shouted a grief-stricken Eric Cohen — father of Yohan Cohen, a worker killed at the Hyper Cacher market in eastern Paris on Jan. 9, 2015 — before the Paris courtroom where 14 suspects in the three days of terrorist attacks that gripped the French capital are currently on trial.

Cohen’s pained outburst was one of several displays of raw emotion during Tuesday’s proceedings, as witnesses and relatives of the four Hyper Cacher victims — Michel Saada, Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham and Yohan Cohen — spoke before the court.

At one point, Cohen recalled that at 4 p.m. on the day of the attack, while frantically worried for Yohan, he was given the incorrect news that there had been no fatalities during the siege at the market.

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“I told myself that I would see my son again, that was huge,” he said. Tragically, he continued, “half an hour later, we were told there had been four deaths…it was a punishment twice over.”

Cohen, who now lives in Israel, said that the passage of more than five years since the attacks had not eased the pain of losing a 20-year-old son. As the details of the siege were laid out before the courtroom, Cohen and other relatives heard of how Yohan — who was shot immediately by the terrorist Amedy Coulibaly — took more than three hours to die from his wounds. Coulibaly at one point asked the other hostages whether they wanted him to “finish off” Cohen, in order to silence his moans.

The trial also learned of the heroism of Yoav Hattab — a shopper at the market who tried to snatch one of the automatic rifles being carried by Coulibaly and was shot dead by the terrorist as he did so.

“The hostages were released, but not my son Yoav — he tried to kill Amedy Coulibaly,” Benyamin Hattab told the court. “I am proud of my son, there is a commandment to save human beings.”

A Tunisian Jew, Hattab recalled that his Muslim friends had mourned his son’s death alongside him.

“The Muslim community in Tunis cried with me,” Hattab said. “They cried for my son. They are my brothers.”

In her testimony, the sister of murdered victim Michel Saada recalled that her Tunisian-born brother had often expressed concern at rising antisemitism in France.

“He was very lucid about what was happening in France, in Europe,” Annie-Laure Saada said. “He was in particular very lucid about the threat of antisemitism. He was preparing to go and settle permanently in Israel, to be close to his children, and yet he loved France viscerally.”

She remembered her brother telling her, “You can’t stay in France anymore if you’re a Jew.”

“That sentence, it keeps coming back to me,” Ms. Saada said.

Valerie Braham — the wife of victim Phillipe Braham — wept before the court as she described the impact of her husband’s murder upon their young family.

“My husband was my rock, and I died with him,” Mrs. Braham said. “My children are growing up without their daddy, our last child doesn’t even remember him.”

She said that her children “know that it was a bad man who killed their father but they don’t understand why.”

The court also heard harrowing testimony from two other workers at the Hyper Cacher — Zarie Sibony, a cashier, and Lassana Bathily, a market assistant.

Sibony noted that she had traveled from Israel, where she now lives, to attend the trial, but that her colleague from the Hyper Cacher, Andrea Samak, who also moved to Israel after the attack, had been unable to accompany her.

“Andrea, she can’t talk about it,” an emotional Sibony said.  “As of that January 9, she’s not the same.”

Sibony described Coulibaly, who was killed by police at the end of the siege, as cold-blooded and contemptuous toward his victims for the duration.

She remembered Coulibaly telling her that she represented the two things he most hated.

“You’re Jewish and French,” he said.

Coulibaly interrogated all the hostages at the market, asking them their religious affiliations, she said. All but two were Jewish.

“You have chosen the wrong day to go shopping in a kosher store,” he told the group.

When Sibony offered Coulibaly a large amount of cash to leave the remaining hostages unharmed, he mocked her, explaining that he was a colleague of the Kouachi brothers — the terrorists who massacred 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo two days previously — and that he intended to die as a “martyr.”

Lassana Bathily’s testimony centered meanwhile on his own role sheltering hostages in the toilet and storage rooms in the basement of the market while Coulibaly was upstairs.

The Mali-born Bathily — who received French citizenship in recognition of his heroism in protecting the hostages — said he had started working at the Hyper Cacher market in 2011.

“It was a Jewish store, I was a practicing Muslim, but there was no problem, everyone respected each other,” Bathily recounted.

Bathily said he remembered Yohan Cohen — his fellow employee from 2013 — as a “brother.”

“He liked sports, I liked sports, he listened to the same music as me,” he said.

Bathily added that he had noticed Cohen reversing his shoulder bag whenever he left the market “so that the Hyper Cacher brand couldn’t be seen.”

“Yohan was afraid he would be attacked,” Bathily said.

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