The 27-year-old graphic designer who hid under a sink and texted vital information to police as the terrorist Kouachi brothers were holed up inside a printing works has spoken for the first time.
Emotional and at times wiping away tears as he was shown footage of his boss telling how he pushed him into hiding, Lilian Lepere, told France 2 TV: "I want to say thank you. He gave me the seconds I needed to hide. It is thanks to him that I am here."
Cherif and Said Kouachi, armed with Kalashnikovs and a rocket launcher, fled to the family-run factory as police and security forces closed in on them following the Hebdo massacre.
Owner Michael Catalano saw them just before they burst through the door and told Lepere to run and hide so that one of them might live.
Lepere fled to the canteen kitchen. He said: "I hid under a sink in a cabinet with two hinged doors 70cm by 90cm and 40cm deep.
"Most of the time they were in the boss's office next door. I heard shooting and then one of them opened the cupboard next to mine.
"Then he opened the fridge he was only 50cm away. I thought he was going to open every cupboard.
"He took a drink from the sink and I could see his shadow. My back was against the pipe and I could feel the water flowing. It was like you see in the movies. At that point the brain stops thinking, the heart stops beating, you stop breathing."
But the young designer knew that he had to somehow communicate what was happening to the outside world.
The Kouachi brothers were killed in the police assault to end the siege. Photo / Supplied
Carefully he texted his father first: "I am hidden on the first floor. I think they have killed everyone. Tell the police to intervene."
For eight hours the terrified Lepere guided police in a series of text messages describing everything he could hear and where the terrorists were moving.
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Lepere sent vital tactical information from under the sink.
At that stage Lepere did not know that his boss had calmed the brothers, made them coffee and even dressed a wound one of them had sustained, before they let him go.
As the Kouachis faced police in a final bloody stand-off, Lepere stayed hidden until police came and found him.
"I couldn't use my mobile at first," he said. "I was in the foetal position and couldn't get to it easily. Then I took the risk. My first instinct was to turn it to silent, then vibrate but I had to make sure it wasn't touching the cabinet.
"The vibrations would have been heard. When I got messages to my family one of them was beside the police so I was immediately reassured to know I was in touch with the outside world. I knew then I could give them information with my knowledge of the plant. And I knew that a team would come for me."
Visibly moved by remembering the hours he waited for the start of the assault, always in fear of being discovered, he described the moment he heard the operation begin.
"I curled up well, protecting my head. I'd been warned they would come for me and that I wasn't to move. But when I realised the police were about to enter, I disobeyed. I was too scared that the brothers had booby trapped the building and bombs were placed in the corridor by me. I fled to the end of the room."
The explosions and gunfire ceased and he said: "Then I heard voices, then the door opened and I saw the light. They guided me to a window and brought me out where a doctor was waiting."
He said he would have loved to join the march in the capital but hadn't the strength. "But my heart was with the people. I am in solidarity with the families in Vincennes and Charlie Hebdo who didn't have our luck."
- Daily Mail