Listen to this article
“Where is your boyfriend? Where is he?” shouts a police officer at the start of Wednesday’s deadly raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, captured by amateur video footage given to the French television channel TF1.
A woman’s voice shouts back: “He is not my boyfriend!” A bang follows, and then a hail of gunfire. Police will shoot 5,000 rounds during the operation, leaving the woman and two men dead, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader behind last Friday’s Paris attacks that left 130 people dead.
The woman was Hasna Aitboulahcen, 26, a French national of Moroccan origin who lived a secular lifestyle, which included heavy drinking and attending nightclubs. She was described by friends as “outgoing” and “a bit clueless”.
Aitboulahcen was a relation of Abaaoud, a Belgian radical and Isis militant, and appears to have been radicalised at a similar time. Police initially identified her as the suicide bomber behind the blast in Saint-Denis, but said on Friday that the explosives had been set off by a man.
According to court records, Aitboulahcen’s Facebook page and local media reports from her home town, she was the daughter of Moroccan immigrants who arrived in France in the early 1970s.
On Friday, President François Hollande would not confirm whether the tip that led to the raid had come from Morocco, but said that intelligence co-operation between the two countries was “very effective and very useful”.
Aitboulahcen was born in Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine, north of Paris, on August 12 1989 and, at the age of 16, moved to Creutzwald, Moselle, in eastern France, near the German border.
Jean-Luc Wozniak, the mayor of Creutzwald, told the Associated Press news agency that she had a sister and two brothers and that the four siblings spent some time in foster care. He said the family moved into an apartment in a housing project in 2006.
Eventually, she left Creutzwald for Clichy-sous-Bois, the district in eastern Paris that had been the starting point of the 2005 French riots, where thousands of cars were burnt and hundreds of buildings destroyed as incensed local residents went on the rampage.
Her time as a student remains unclear. Her Facebook page says she went to Paul Verlaine University in Metz, but the school denies any record of her.
However, it is clear that she went on to be the manager of a construction company, Beko Construction, in 2013. The business was created in Clichy-sous-Bois in 2011 and transferred to her name in May 2013 — but for only seven months, according to court records. It was liquidated in 2014.
Aitboulahcen frequently returned to Creutzwald to visit her father. The town of 13,000 people was the subject of a large police operation on Wednesday night, one of more than 790 that have been carried out since Sunday night using new state of emergency powers.
Friends told a local newspaper, Républicain Lorrain, they had not seen her for five years. They said she drank alcohol and was known locally as “the cowgirl” because she wore a big hat.
It is not clear whether she became radicalised after 2013. But if true, this would appear to be about the same time 28-year-old Abaaoud is thought to have been transformed into a jihadi. He left Brussels and headed for Syria in early 2014, where he became a high-ranking Isis fighter.
Aitboulahcen, who by this point was known to the French authorities, expressed a wish to do the same in a posting on her Facebook page that was seen by the Belgian news site DH before it was deleted.
She wrote on June 11 this year: “Jver biento aller en syrie inshallah biento depart pour la turkie (I am soon going to Syria, God willing, leaving soon for Turkey).”
This story has been updated to reflect the latest information from the Paris prosecutor.