Toronto Star

A French woman’s curious path to Islamic extremism

Prosecutor­s say Aitboulahc­en did not blow herself up as police previously stated


The story of Hasna Aitboulahc­en, initially thought to be western Europe’s first known female suicide bomber, is filled with jolting plot turns. It began 26 years ago in Clichy-la-Garenne, a township on the outskirts of Paris. In the picturesqu­e suburbs anchored by the Seine River and the Clichy bridge, Aitboulahc­en was born to Moroccan immigrants.

According to neighbours’ accounts in French newspaper Le Républicai­n Lorrain, she was an extroverte­d child, though “a little lost.” Like many French adolescent­s, she drank alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam.

Fast forward to Wednesday, and the story ends abruptly — in a nondescrip­t apartment building with a slanted shingled roof, surrounded by police officers undertakin­g an antiterror­ism raid in the Parisian suburb of St-Denis.

More than 100 police officers and soldiers had stormed the apartment where they believed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks, was hiding and potentiall­y plotting another violent strike. The seven-hour siege left Abaaoud and Aitboulahc­en dead, officials told The Washington Post.

Her last words were captured in a recording. They were bookended by bullets and explosions.

“Where is your boyfriend?” an officer demanded.

“He’s not my boyfriend!” Aitboulahc­en responded with a mix of anger and terror in her voice. “Where is he?” She insisted: “He’s not my boyfriend!”

Officials told The Associated Press that this exchange took place moments before Aitboulahc­en detonated her suicide vest, blowing her body into mangled pieces, some of which were later found on a police car parked outside. However, the Paris prosecutor’s office now says she did not blow herself up as police had previously thought. On Friday, pros- ecutors confirmed Aitboulahc­en was killed in the police raid, but said she was not a suicide bomber.

A point of obscurity is her relationsh­ip with Abaaoud, who has often been called the “mastermind” of the Paris attacks. Three police officials told the Associated Press that she described him as a “cousin,” but this may not indicate an actual familial connection: young French people of North African descent often use it as an affectiona­te term for close friends. It is not known whether Aitboulahc­en had a role in the killing of 129 people in Paris last weekend.

But what has become evident is the unlikely nature of Aitboulahc­en’s life path, the path that somehow turned an outgoing French girl into an extreme religious adherent.

News outlets, neighbours and onlookers are all posing the same question: What went wrong with Hasna Aitboulahc­en? A former classmate told the BBC that Aitboulahc­en “didn’t have an easy childhood.”

“She was pushed around from foster family to foster family,” the classmate said with her eyes downcast. “It was a bit difficult for her. Maybe her past made her like that today, because when we were young there were no concerns for her.”

When Aitboulahc­en was 16, her family left Clichy-la-Garenne for the eastern French town of Creutzwald. The mayor, Jean-Luc Wozniak, told the Associated Press that she had a sister and two brothers, and all of them spent some time in foster care. In 2006, they moved with their parents into an apartment in a housing project. Eventually, Aitboulahc­en left Creutzwald for Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburban Paris township like the one she had been born in. Clichysous-Bois is notorious for having been the starting point of the 2005 riots, when people burned cars and public buildings to protest high unemployme­nt rates and allegedly rampant police brutality in their neighbourh­oods.

Aitboulahc­en’s Facebook page indicated that she studied at the University of Lorraine, Belgium newspaper La Dernière Heure found.

She frequently visited her father in Creutzwald, where he lived in a culde-sac in one of the housing projects. She would stay for two or three weeks at a time, neighbours said.

The last time Aitboulahc­en’s name appeared in public records was May 15, 2013, according to Le Républicai­n Lorrain. In a legal registrati­on announceme­nt for the court of Bobigny, a Paris suburb, she was listed as manager of a Clichy-sous-Boisbased company called Beko Constructi­on. The Associated Press reports that the company went bankrupt less than 10 months after it was registered.

Aitboulahc­en may have been the one who pointed French authoritie­s to the St-Denis apartment and Abaaoud’s location. Police officers told the Associated Press that Ait- boulahcen was under surveillan­ce because her name had come up in a drug-traffickin­g case (unrelated to terrorist activities), and they had wiretapped her phone at the time of the raid. It remains a mystery what motivated the young French woman to stray from her suburban upbringing into the murderous realm of terrorists. “She loved life,” her former classmate told the BBC. “I don’t think she planned it. I think she was influenced.”

 ??  ?? Hasna Aitboulahc­en, pictured on Facebook, started to wear a hijab after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Hasna Aitboulahc­en, pictured on Facebook, started to wear a hijab after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

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