By Brian Love
A woman whose phone tip-off allowed police to corner and kill the ringleader of the Nov 13 assault on Paris has spoken for the first time of his plans for a follow-up attack and how he bragged about entering France with 90 others from Syria.
The woman, in hiding and under police protection, contacted a French radio station to complain of what she deems insufficient support from the public authorities, and she also talked of the events that led police to Islamist militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
Abaaoud died when elite police laid siege to his hideout flat in Saint Denis north of Paris on Nov 18, days after the Islamic State-claimed attacks in which he and a large group of militants killed 130 people in and near the French capital.
The woman said she was present when her friend was contacted to find a hideout for Abaaoud, and then met Abaaoud himself.
“I said to him: ‘but you have killed innocent people’. He says to me, ‘no they are not innocent, you should look at what’s going on in Syria’,” the woman, whose identity was hidden, said in the interview for RMC radio and television news channel BFM.
The woman met Abaaoud because she was a friend of his cousin, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, who died alongside Abaaoud in the police raid. The Nov 13 attacks were claimed by Islamic State, the group that controls swathes of Syria and Iraq and whose positions are being bombed by French jets.
The woman said she learned from Abaaoud himself and further conversations with his cousin of his plans to imminently launch new attacks on a creche, police station and shopping mall in the La Defense business district on the western edge of Paris. She says that made her decide to call a special hot line.
“She tells me that it’s for Thursday and I say to myself I’m going to stop them,” the woman said, referring to the moment when her friend Ait Boulahcen told her the precise attack date.
Hours later, police laid siege to the flat where Abaaoud was holed up with cousin Ait Boulhacen and a third person who took part with Abaaoud in the Nov 13 attacks, another Belgian or Moroccan descent, Chakib Akrouh.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it was investigating a potential breach of secrecy laws in response to the interview broadcast on Thursday. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said her media exposure could put her in danger.
The woman complained of having no social life, no job and no psychological support more than two months after the attacks, and said she still had no new identity papers to match the false name she was now obliged to use.
Speaking of Abaaoud’s lack of remorse and determination to kill more people, the woman said: “He’s proud of himself. He tells it as if he’d gone shopping and found a pack of cut-price washing powder. He’s happy.”
She said he also told her of how he and 90 others – Syrians, Iraqis, Germans, French and Britons – entered the country from Syria without any official papers ahead of the attacks. “France is zero,” she said he told her.