A crossbow in her hands and covered head-to-toe in a black Islamic headwear and robe that leaves only her eyes visible — that is the image now circulating of France’s most-wanted woman: Hayat Boumeddiene. The 26-year-old is the partner of Amedy Coulibaly, one of the three gunmen shot dead by police after three days of high drama in France.
The photo — first published by Le Monde — contrasts with the one French police issued in its public appeal to locate her following the bloody events of Friday, when Coulibaly was killed by police commandos after he took and killed hostages in a Jewish supermarket in Paris.
The mugshot provided by the police shows a sleepy-eyed young woman, her face and brown hair showing, whom they had questioned in 2010 about Coulibaly, who also killed a policewoman in southern Paris on Thursday. Although police now say that she was likely to have been in Turkey at the time of the killings, she remains of great interest to investigators piecing together this week’s jihadist attacks in France by Coulibaly and brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi who killed 12 people on Wednesday in an attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
Coulibaly was a 32-year-old longtime criminal who apparently became a radical Muslim during one of his frequent stints in prison. He claimed in a brief phone call to French television station BFMTV midway through the supermarket siege that he belonged to the Islamic State jihadist group.
Coulibaly also said he had coordinated his hostage-taking with the other two gunmen, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who claimed separately to BFMTV that they belonged to another fundamentalist group, Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Cherif Kouachi, a 32-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, was said to have pushed Coulibaly, a French citizen of Malian background, towards extreme Islam while the two were in prison together.
There was “constant and sustained” communication between Boumeddiene and Cherif Kouachi’s wife Izzana Hamyd, according to Paris’s chief prosecutor Francois Molins, who said “more than 500 calls” were made between the two women in 2014. Hamyd, who was taken into custody on Wednesday, was released on Saturday.
Investigators are now going through telephone records and wiretaps, and other material seized during searches, to determine the extent of the possible complicity and anyone else who might be connected to the gunmen. But the focus right now is on Boumeddiene, who according to a Turkish security source entered Turkey on January 2 and is believed to have since travelled on to Syria.
One of seven children to a mother who died when she was six, Boumeddiene was put into foster care with her young siblings because her father, a delivery man, was unable to take care of them. She had a religious ceremony in 2009 to “marry” Coulibaly, though such unions are not recognised in France unless preceded by an official civil ceremony, and the couple lived in a modest apartment in a poor suburb south of Paris.
Coulibaly moved back in with her in May last year when he was released from his last period behind bars. Le Parisien newspaper said she lost her job as a cashier because she insisted on wearing the all-covering Islamic garment known as a niqab. Boumeddiene accompanied Coulibaly several times to a forest in central southern France to fire a crossbow. Le Monde published several photos of the couple holding up the weapon, with Boumeddiene wearing her niqab.