The suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks and a woman police believe may have been his female cousin died during a police raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday, French prosecutors confirmed Thursday morning.
It is unclear how the man suspected of coordinating the attacks last Friday, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed. In their official statement, Paris prosecutors said his body was “riddled with bullet holes.” However, police are still trying to determine whether he blew himself up at some point during the seven-hour raid.
Hasna Aitboulahcen, 26, also died in the raid. Police said she called herself Abaaoud’s “cousin,” according to The New York Times, though the paper noted that French people of North African descent use that term sometimes to refer to their close friends.
Police initially believed she blew herself up, according to the Associated Press, which would have made her the first female suicide bomber in Western Europe. But the AFP reported on Friday that, according to a police source, she did not blow herself up. Rather, the AFP reported, the suicide bomber was an unidentified man.
A recording of the raid posted by The Independent reportedly captured her exchange with police on Wednesday, in which they ask her, “Where is your boyfriend?” and she screams back, “He’s not my boyfriend!”
Before the police stormed the house in Saint-Denis, Aitboulahcen shouted for help from the window, according to The Telegraph.
“During the lull in the shooting I heard a woman shouting: “Help, help, help me!” one local man told Paris newspaper Le Parisien, according to the The Daily Telegraph (Sydney).
A former acquaintance in the town of Creutzwald, France, where she frequently visited her father, described her as “an extrovert” and “a bit lost,” according to the Républicain Lorrain newspaper.
One of the many people who gathered in front of the apartment building where her father lives told the Républicain Lorrain that Aitboulahcen “couldn’t even say hello in Arabic,” and that she was the opposite of the Islamist radical they are seeing in pictures. “We still have trouble believing it was really her.”
“We remember her well,” another acquaintance told the Républicain Lorrain, adding that she was always wearing a leather cowboy hat. “It was her style, she was not the type to wear the veil, we called her cow-girl in the neighbourhood.”
The consternation surrounding her sudden change is that much greater because she never even talked about religion, people who knew her told the Républicain Lorrain. She would get drunk on vodka during Ramadan, and she never went to the mosque, according to acquaintances who spoke to the Républicain Lorrain. H
er brother also said he had never even seen her open a Quran, CNN reports.
The Republicain Lorrain writes that her last visit to her dad in Creutzwald was in the summer of 2011. The young people who live in the neighbourhood remember her visit, saying you couldn’t not notice her. “She was the only girl with a group of 10 guys, when she had something to say, she said it,” a woman from her neighbourhood told the Republicain Lorrain.
Her acquaintances in the village remember she was even talking about joining the French army at the time. They also say that Wednesday was the first time they heard about her since 2011.
According to the Républicain Lorrain, the last time her name was mentioned in public records was May 15, 2013. A legal announcement made at the Bobigny courthouse names her as the manager of Beko Construction, a company set up in Clichy-sous-bois that has been inactive for two years.
Aitboulahcen reportedly showed signs of her radicalization on her Facebook page, where she wrote, “I’ll soon by on my way to Syria God willing. Soon leaving for Turkey,” according to the Telegraph.
The Telegraph also reports that pictures on her Facebook page show her wearing a niqab (a cloth covering the face) and brandishing firearms. Her Facebook page also displayed messages she wrote supporting the wife of a terrorist who took part in attacks on a Jewish supermarket in Paris last January, according to the Telegraph.
After failed attempts to make her way to Syria to join ISIS, she “offered her services to commit terrorist attacks in France,” the Telegraph reports.
A woman identified as Khemissa spoke to the BBC and said she was a childhood friend of Aitboulahcen. That woman said
Aitboulahcen was a model child growing up. She says that she was was a fragile person and probably brainwashed.
“She was really vulnerable and going through a bad time in her life,” Khemissa said, “so they came at the right time and found the right person.”
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