A massive manhunt is under way for the suspected female accomplice of the militant Islamists behind last week’s deadly terror attacks on a satirical newspaper and a Jewish store in France, with police describing the woman as “armed and dangerous”.
Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, is the girlfriend of the slain Paris kosher store gunman, Amédy Coulibaly, and is wanted by police in connection with the deadly attacks, which included the killing of a young female officer in southern Paris on Thursday.
The deadly week that saw four attacks in three days
“All our services are focused on looking for this person,” national police chief Jean-Marc Falcone told BFM-TV television on the weekend. “We call on her to put herself in the hands of justice.”
In the worst assault on France’s homeland security for decades, 17 victims lost their lives in three days of violence that began with an attack on the satirical Charlie Hebdo weekly on Wednesday and ended with Friday’s dual sieges at a print shop outside Paris and a kosher supermarket in the city.
French security forces shot dead the two brothers – Said and Chérif Kouachi - behind the Hebdo killings after they took refuge in a print shop, as well as Coulibaly who had planted explosives at the Paris supermarket in a siege that claimed the lives of four hostages.
On Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was cited by the state-run news agency Anatolian as saying that Boumeddiene had crossed into Syria from Turkey last Thursday.
According to the minister, the suspect arrived at an Istanbul airport via Madrid on January 2 and stayed in a hotel until January 8.
Those dates would put her in Turkey before the violence in Paris began, and leaving for Syria while the attackers were still on the loose.
Cavusoglu said that as soon as Turkey identified the whereabouts of Boumeddiene, it passed the information to French authorities.
Posing with cross-bow
An official police photograph shows a young woman with long dark hair hitched back over her ears. French media, however, released photos purporting to be of a fully-veiled Boumeddiene, posing with a cross-bow, in what they said was a 2010 training session in the mountainous Cantal region.
French media have described her as one of seven children whose mother died when she was young and whose delivery-man father struggled to keep working while looking after the family. As an adult, she lost her job as a cashier when she converted to Islam and started wearing the niqab, which is banned in France.
Le Monde said Boumeddiene wed Coulibaly in a religious ceremony not recognised by French civil authorities in 2009. The two were questioned by police in 2010 and Coulibaly jailed for his involvement in a botched plot to spring from jail the author of a deadly 1995 attack on the Paris transport system.
‘She’s insecure, and often cries’
In an interview in French daily Le Parisien on Monday, a woman said to be one of Boumeddiene’s childhood friends said she was shocked to learn of Boumeddiene’s alleged implication.
“I don’t believe it for a second,” the woman, given the pseudonym Maya, told the newspaper, but said Boumeddiene was so close to Coulibaly that she must at least have been aware of his “projects”.
“I think they decided together that she would leave for Syria to take shelter,” she said.
The friend described Boumeddiene as someone with a strong character who had become increasingly religious since meeting Coulibaly, noting, however, that she was also someone who was emotionally fragile “who often cries and has little confidence in herself.”
The friend said she last met Boumeddiene at a “girls' dinner” about a month ago during which Boumeddiene handed out presents bought while on a pilgrimage with Coulibaly to
Mecca in October.
“And recently, she sent me text messages related to religion, in which she spoke of mercy.”
Besides their trip to Mecca, the friend said the suspected couple had also visited Mali after Coulibaly was released from prison in March, 2014.
500 calls with Chérif Kouachi’s wife
On Friday, Paris prosecutor François Molins said there had been “sustained” contact between Boumeddiene and the wife of Chérif Kouachi throughout the past year, with records of no fewer than 500 phone calls between the two. Kouachi's wife is currently being questioned by French police.
“We can call this complicity by furnishing of means,” Christophe Crépin, spokesman for the UNSA police union, said. “We must interrogate her (Boumeddiene) so she explains exactly if she did this under influence, if she did it by ideology, if she did it to aid and abet.”
Official judicial records show Boumeddiene was asked once by French counterterrorism police about her reaction to attacks committed by al Qaeda.
“I don’t have any opinion,” she answered, according to the documents, but added immediately that innocent people were being killed by the Americans and needed to be defended.
While one of the Kouachi brothers told media shortly before his death that he was funded by al Qaeda in Yemen, the kosher store gunman, Coulibaly, claimed allegiance to the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, saying he wanted to defend Palestinians and target Jews.
Coulibaly said he had jointly planned the attacks with the Kouachi brothers, and police confirmed they were all members of the same Islamist cell in northern Paris.
Coulibaly has also been linked to the shooting of a jogger on the outskirts of Paris just hours after the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo weekly on Wednesday. With injuries to his arm and back, the jogger is still in a critical condition.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-01-12