TREBES, France (Reuters) - Christian Guibbert described how he walked into the middle of a hostage-taking at his local supermarket on Friday and escaped only after the attacker yelling “God is greatest” in Arabic lunged at him with a knife.
Shoppers in the southwestern French town of Trebes also hid themselves in the supermarket’s cold store - repeating a survival technique used when an Islamist attacker took hostages three years ago at a Jewish deli in Paris.
Guibbert said he heard gunshots when he arrived at the Super U supermarket with his wife and sister-in-law.
He told his family members and some other shoppers to lock themselves inside the walk-in cold room and he went back in the aisles while alerting the police by phone.
There he saw the attacker holding a handgun and a knife screaming “Allahu Akbar” and ordering people to get on the ground.
“At one point he saw me and took after me with his knife, I guess because he didn’t have any more ammunition,” Guibbert told Reuters. “Then I looked back and he wasn’t there any more and I slipped out of an emergency exit. When the police arrived, I told them where he was.”
Two people died at the supermarket after the gunman, 26-year-old Redouane Lakdim, had already shot a third victim dead in the nearby tourist town of Carcassonne.
By the time police stormed the building, the gunman was holding only a 45-year-old police lieutenant-colonel who had exchanged himself for one of the hostages. President Emmanuel Macron said the officer was fighting for his life in hospital.
Lakdim was killed.
Andre Bivent, 76, said he had finished his shopping and was on his way to the checkout when he heard shots and spotted Lakdim. “I got down on the ground when I heard shooting a second time, and that’s when I saw him walking among the checkout counters,” Bivent told Reuters.
Another shopper then led him to the cold room where they hid for about a half hour before slipping out through the stockroom in the back of the store.
Francois, a worker at the supermarket, was in his department when he heard the gunshots. Nonetheless, he said he rushed to the area where the shots had come from and nearly ran into the gunman, whom he said was talking about Islamic State.
He ran away and helped evacuate about 20 shoppers through the back.
In January 21015, shopworker Lassana Bathily ushered panicked shoppers into a cold storage room at the Parisian kosher deli when an Islamist militant killed four Jewish hostages. The shoppers waited out the attack in the room.
Writing by Leigh Thomas; editing by John Irish and David Stamp