French forensic and medical experts are examining what remains of the woman who blew herself up during a police shootout after the Paris terrorist attacks, believed to be Islamic State supporter Hasna Aitboulahcen.
The Frenchwoman, aged 26, was heard engaging in an almost hysterical exchange with police shortly before she triggered a suicide belt, killing herself instantly.
Aitboulahcen, whose name was also spelled Ait Boulahcen, was reported to be a cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man believed to have masterminded the coordinated series of bombings and shootings in Paris on Friday evening that left 129 people dead. However, investigators remain unsure of any family connection.
On Thursday details emerged of Aitboulahcen’s journey from extroverted cowboy-hat-wearing girl to company boss to suspected terrorist. Born in Clichy-la-Garenne in the Hauts-de-Seine on the outskirts of Paris on 12 August 1989, of Moroccan parents who had come to France in 1973, Aitboulahcen was young when her parents separated.
Neighbours in Creutzwald said they had not seen Aitboulahcen for at least five years but said back then she was “extrovert”, “bubbly” and a “bit lost”. She liked to wear a large hat, leading to her nickname “the cowgirl”.
“She didn’t look like a suicide bomber and she drank alochol,” one of her young neighbours at the Impasse du Dauphin told the local newspaper. “We saw her quite often and we called her the cowgirl because she always wore a large hat.”
Another neighbour in Paris said she was a “tomboy” who dressed in jeans, trainers and a black hat until she began wearing a niqab a month ago.
Her brother said: “‘She spent her time criticising everything. She refused to accept any advice, she didn’t want to sort herself out. She was living in her own world. She was not interested in studying her religion. I never saw her open the Qur’an. She was permanently on her phone, looking at Facebook or WhatsApp. “I told her to stop all of this but she would not listen, she ignored my numerous attempts to give her advice telling me I was not her dad, or her husband, and so I should leave her alone.”
In May 2013, she was registerd as having founded a building company called Beko Construction, a business that has been inactive for two years, according to official records.
In recent years, Aitboulahcen made no secret of her support for Isis on social media networks. Aware of her relationship with Abaaoud, immediately identified as the man behind the Friday 13 attacks, French intelligence service put her under immediate surveillance.
Her phone was already being tapped and bank movements traced as part of an investigation into drug trafficking in the area. After the Paris attacks, further phone taps were authorised. It was information gleaned from this surveillance that led police investigating the attacks to the apartment on the third floor of 8 rue du Corbillon in the St-Denis suburb of the French capital, where another alleged terror cell was holed up.
Suspecting the cell was planning a further attack on the city, French special anti-terrorist forces arrived to neutralise the group at 4.20am on Wednesday. After heavy gunfire and a brief exchange with police, during which officers shouted to Aitboulahcen “where’s your friend?” and she replied: “It’s not my friend,” there was heavy gunfire followed by a large explosion.
Another neighbour, Christian, 20, reported hearing a blonde woman he believed was Aitboulahcen shouting “help me, help me, help me,” and police ordering her to raise her hands before hearing a burst of gunfire. It was unclear whether Aiboulahcen had detonated her suicide vest or whether the fire from French snipers outside the apartment had set it off.
Her status, written in a form of abbreviated slang, read: “Jver binto aller en syrie inchallah biento depart pour la turkie!” (I’ll soon be going to Syria, God willing, soon leaving for Turkey).
She had also expressed her admiration for Hayat Boumeddiene, the widow of Amédy Coulibaly, who carried out the attack on the the Hyper Casher supermarket in Paris three days after the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, killing four people.