Sunday 26 March 2017

Profile of Hasna Aitboulahcen: The bubbly, outgoing girl who wore cowboy hats and drank

Hasna Aitboulahcen
Hasna Aitboulahcen

Patrick Sawer and Henry Samuel

To her friends and neighbours she was the bubbly, outgoing girl who liked wearing large cowboy hats.

But on Wednesday it was clear there was a far darker side to Hasna Aitboulahcen.

The 26-year-old blew herself up as police stormed the flat where she was holed up with six fellow terrorists.

Shortly after 6am, as elite police and soldiers surrounded the flat in Saint-Denis, Aitboulahcen appeared at a window, shouting "help me, help me", perhaps to lure officers in. She is reported to have been the first to open fire, using a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

The police tried to talk to Aitboulahcen, asking her: "Where's your boyfriend?" "He's not my boyfriend!" she screamed in reply. Seconds later, she detonated a suicide vest, killing herself and causing the floor of the apartment to collapse.

Aitboulahcen's death, and the role she appears to have played in the terror cell, has shocked those who knew her.

Her brother, Youssouf Aitboulahcen, said she had no interest in religion and only started wearing a veil a month ago. He said: "She spent her time criticising everything. She was living in her own world. I never saw her open the Koran. She was permanently on her phone, looking at Facebook or WhatsApp. I told her to stop all of this but she ignored my attempts to give her advice."

Three weeks ago, Aitboulahcen left her mother's home to live with a female friend in Drancy, a suburb of north-east Paris.

Then on Sunday, two days after the attacks, she rang her brother at 7pm. "She sounded like she had given up on life," Mr Aitboulahcen said. He drove over to check on her but got no answer.

"She called me and I put the phone down on her after getting me to come over for nothing. Finally on Wednesday morning I turned on the TV and I learnt that she had killed herself, sacrificing the life that the Lord had given."

Mr Boulahcen added: "From the age of five she was taken into care, so she grew up with a foster family. She was happy and she flourished. Then as she grew up she went off the rails. She became reckless, running away and choosing bad company."

One neighbour, Hassane, described her as a tomboy, always dressed in jeans, trainers and a black cap, until recently, when she adopted the niqab. He said: "She wasn't scared of anyone. She was like a little soldier. She was very lively."

Others described her as an extrovert who drank alcohol and was nicknamed "the cowgirl" for her habit of wearing cowboy hats. But it is now clear that at some point, she became deeply radicalised. On her Facebook page, seen by the Belgian news website DH.be, she is pictured wearing a niqab and brandishing firearms.

After trying unsuccessfully to travel to Syria, Aitboulahcen "offered her services to commit terrorist attacks in France", according to police sources. At around the same time she was placed under "triple surveillance" by French intelligence, judges and police for drug-running and terror activities. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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