Paris attack leader 'said he entered France in group of 90 extremists'
Published 04/02/2016 | 13:36
The woman who tipped police to the Islamic State commander of the November 13 attacks in Paris says he told her he entered the Paris region among a multinational group of 90 extremists still scattered in the area.
In an interview with French TV channel RMC and confirmed by her lawyer, the woman identified only as Sonia said Abdelhamid Abaaoud was proud of the attack that killed 130 people.
Sonia was with Abaaoud's female cousin when they picked him up from a deserted stretch of road outside Paris to take him to the hideout in Saint-Denis where he died.
She said he told her he had entered France without documents, among a group of 90 that included both Europeans and Arabs.
The 42-year-old woman received a phone call on November 15 from Abaaoud using a Belgian number, asking for a place to hide.
The two women drove to a deserted industrial road outside Paris and Abaaoud came out of a bush. It was at that moment she realised who he was, she said.
What followed is Abaaoud's only known conversation about the attacks and their aftermath - with a woman so horrified and angered by the bloodshed that she challenged him repeatedly.
She said the Islamic State group commander told her he had entered France among a group of 90 people that had scattered around the Paris region. She accused him of killing innocent people, which he denied, and challenged the deaths of Muslims that night. He described those as "collateral damage".
"He was proud of himself. That was the worst," she said. "He appeared to fear no one, a superman. He talked about it as though he was shopping and had gotten a bargain on a box of detergent."
She asked him whether he had come in with Syrian refugees and he told her he came in a group without any documents. "There are Syrians, Iraqis, French, Germans, British. We came in a group of 90 and we're a little bit everywhere around Paris."
She asked him why he needed the help of his cousin, her friend Hasna Ait Boulahcen, who ultimately died in the Saint-Denis apartment with him and another of the gunmen who attacked customers at bars and restaurants in central Paris.
"He told me no, they left a lot of traces and they'll be identified quickly. And that it's not over," she said.
His description of the triple suicide bombings at the French national stadium, which claimed only one victim amid a night of carnage: "The exact words of his response were: 'There were some failures. I am here to make sure that there will be no more.'"
At that point, Abaaoud told Ait Boulahcen to find a hideout, buy a pair of business suits for him and his accomplice and return without wearing the full Islamic dress. As the two women drove away, the Belgian number rang again, this time threatening Sonia if she spoke.
As soon as Ait Boulahcen left her apartment the next morning - Monday, November 16 - Sonia called the police and got a response instead from the top intelligence services.
All that evening, she tried to persuade the younger woman to abandon her cousin, who she said planned an attack that Thursday on a nursery school, a shopping centre and a police station in the La Defense business district. Finally, the younger woman gave her the address where she was going to hide Abaaoud.
"She's not a victim of terrorism. She chose to help her cousin, which means he was stronger than me," she said.