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Hasna Ait Boulahcen: The party-girl who became a suicide bomber

Hasna Ait Boulahcen, who on Friday was confirmed to have died during a massive police raid linked to the Paris attacks, was a troubled party-girl who lurched towards radical Islam about six months ago.

world Updated: Nov 21, 2015 08:51 IST
paris attacks,Radical Islam,Paris bombings
A YouTube screengrab of Hasna Ait Boulahcen, who police confirmed died during raids linked to the Paris attacks. (YouTube screengrab)

Hasna Ait Boulahcen, who on Friday was confirmed to have died during a massive police raid linked to the Paris attacks, was a troubled party-girl who lurched towards radical Islam about six months ago.

The 26-year-old had an unstable upbringing, spending time in foster care, and has been described as “a bit wacky” by friends who noted her penchant for walking around in a cowboy hat and boots.

During Wednesday’s dawn raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, she was heard responding to a member of the crack police team that was hunting for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged brains behind the attacks that killed 129 people -- he is rumoured to be her cousin.

“Where’s your friend, where is he?” the officer is heard shouting on a clip filmed by local residents. “He’s not my friend!,” a high-pitched voice screams back.

The French word for “copain” can also mean boyfriend, but it was not clear in what sense the term was used.

Several loud explosions are then heard in what is thought to be a suicide bomber detonating an explosives vest.

It was widely reported to have been Boulahcen, but prosecutors have not confirmed this.

Police officers walk outside the house of the mother of the female suicide bomber Hasna Aitboulahcen, in Aulnay-sous-Bois, near Paris. Aitboulahcen is believed to have detonated a suicide vest after a brief exchange with police officers. (AP Photo)

Speaking to AFP on Thursday, those close to her said they immediately recognised her voice from the recording.

Boulahcen’s brother, who did not want to give his name, said she had suddenly become radicalised about six months ago.

“She started by wearing a jilbab (which covers the whole body except the face) and then she moved on to the niqab (full-face veil),” he told AFP.

“She was unstable, she created her own bubble. She wasn’t looking to study religion, I have never even seen her open a Koran.”

Those who knew her described her as a tomboy, who would wear jeans and a baseball cap.

For Sofiane, a neighbour in the Parisian satellite town of Aulnay-sous-Bois, Boulahcen had “the gift of the gab” but was also “a bit wacky”.

“She might appear suddenly in front of you and start rapping.”

Drinking, smoking ‘cowgirl’

In the eastern town of Creutzwald near the German border, where her 74-year-old father lives, a longtime friend Jerome described her as a bon vivant who often wore a cowboy hat and boots and “smoked occasionally and drank on nights out”.

Her father, a devout Muslim who had moved from Paris to work at the Peugeot carmaker, is believed to be currently in Morocco.

Boulahcen’s brother said she was born in August 1989 in a suburb northwest of Paris, but was mistreated as a child and was placed in foster care between the age of eight and 15.

Investigating police officers are pictured outside Saint Denis, near Paris, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. The Paris prosecutor says that the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in Wednesday's police raid in the building. (AP Photo)

In fact, this was a “happy period where she blossomed”, he said.

“At first it went well, she was a child like any other”, said her foster mother, adding that Boulahcen never showed any affection.

She recalled Boulahcen sitting in front of the television “clapping” when the World Trade Center was hit by Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001.

Typical teenage behaviour was augmented by strange habits.

“She always rolled herself up in a blanket with her head hidden. She said the devil was there at night.”

The foster mother said Boulahcen left suddenly at age 15, adding: “I knew she was lost”.

Local media reported that later in life she posted images on her Facebook page of herself in a niqab, holding weapons and praising other jihadists.

“I am going to Syria soon God willing, soon leaving for Turkey,” she reportedly wrote on her page.

However she never left, and at some point returned to live with her birth mother in Aulnay-sous-Bois until a few weeks ago.

Reports say she might have fallen under the influence of Abaaoud, who prosecutors believe was preparing the team in the apartment to launch fresh attacks. Both families have roots in Morocco.

“It’s brainwashing,” her 58-year-old mother said of her daughter’s radicalisation.

Sources close to the inquiry said she had been investigated in the past for drugs offences.

More recently, according to her brother, “she spent all her time on her smartphone, on Facebook and Whatsapp”.

“We are really sad for all the victims,” he added.

First Published: Nov 20, 2015 20:09 IST