In the wake of two terror attacks that claimed the lives of 17 people, France is gearing up for a giant unity rally on Sunday with world leaders expected to attend. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli governmental leaders will be in attendance.
On Friday, shortly before the start of the Sabbath, four Jewish men were killed when an Islamic terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly, took hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris.
The men were identified Saturday Yohan Cohen, 22, an employee of the HyperCacher store; Phillipe Barham, 45, father and an IT executive; Yoav Hattab, 21, a student from Tunis who is said to be the son of the chief rabbi of Tunis; and François-Michel Saada, 64, retired father of two.
After initially opting out from attending the rally due to security concerns, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Netanyahu would leave for Paris on Sunday. The prime minister is to be accompanied by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, will take part in the march paying homage to the terror victims and to express their support of the French people and their leaders,” a statement by the Israeli Embassy read.
In an address Saturday night, Netanyahu urged French Jews to leave France and move to the safety of Israel. “Israel is your home,” he stated.
According to reports, Hattab managed to snatch one of the terrorist’s guns and attempted to shoot him before realizing it was jammed. Coulibaly executed Hattab on the spot. A survivor of the attack, Rudy Hadad, told Channel 2 that Coulibaly “showed no mercy, he was there to kill people. He was firing everywhere.”
Coulibaly is said to have told French Journalists that he deliberately chose the kosher supermarket since he wanted to target Jews. “He explained his target, why this kosher store: because he was targeting Jews,” French BFM-TV journalist Sarah-Lou Cohen said.
Coulibaly reportedly told BFM-TV journalists that he was a member of ISIS and that he planned his attack with the Kouachi brothers – the gunmen who killed 12 people at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that published caricatures of Mohammed.
“He explained also why he did this: to defend oppressed Muslims, he said, notably in Palestine,” Cohen added.
Some 15-30 shoppers are said to have hid in a freezer in the basement of the supermarket for hours. A Muslim employee of the supermarket, Lassana Bathily, told Metronews that he led shoppers into the freezer and told them to hide.
“I opened the door of the freezer and a number of people went inside. I turned off the lights and the freezer itself,” he told the paper. Bathily managed to escape the store and notified security forces of what was happening inside the store.
Before departing for Paris, Netanyahu said that Israel would welcome French Jews “with open arms.” He added that he was flying to Paris to join “the renewed fight against Islamist terror which threatens all of humanity, something that for many years I have called for.”
Sunday’s rally is expected to host hundreds of thousands of people. More than 2,000 French police officers are being deployed to the rally site, in addition to tens of thousands of officers who are guarding religious sites across France.