Officials concerned terror suspect may have fled France
France’s most wanted woman, the wife of the terrorist gunman who stormed a Parisian kosher grocery and killed four hostages, may be in war-torn Syria, reports said on Saturday.
French police have been conducting an intense manhunt for Hayat Boumeddiene, whose husband Amedy Coulibaly was killed after shooting dead a police officer and taking hostages at the grocery on Friday.
Boumeddiene, 26, was suspected of being involved in the killing of the policewoman in a Paris suburb on Thursday with Coulibaly, who was killed in the police raid at the store Hyper Cacher. The four hostages were killed before authorities gained entry.
French authorities have described Boumeddiene as armed and dangerous.
People familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal that Boumeddiene left France before this week’s carnage which began with the massacre of 12 people in a command-style attack at the office of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine Wednesday.
She crossed into Syria from Turkey, the people told the paper.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that a Turkish intelligence official said authorities believe Boumeddiene came through Turkey days before and also believe she may have crossed into Syria.
The official said a woman by the same name of the common law wife of Amedy Coulibaly flew to Istanbul on Jan. 2.
The official said the woman resembled a widely distributed photo of the woman, Hayat Boumeddiene. The official said she landed at Sabiha Gokcen, which is Istanbul’s secondary airport, stayed two nights in Istanbul before traveling to Sanliurfa near the border with Syria and “then disappeared.”
The Journal said it wasn’t clear if Boumeddiene went to Syria to join one of radical Islamist groups fighting in the bloody civil war.
Early reports indicated that Boumeddiene was inside the store at the time of the hostage taking, but there is no evidence to support that information.
Boumeddiene married Coulibaly in an Islamic religious ceremony in July 2009 — a union not recognized by French law. A circular distributed Friday by French police warned the public that Boumeddiene was a dangerous person. The couple reportedly travelled several times to the French countryside to fire crossbows.
Prosecutors said Boumeddiene has ties to Cherif Kouachi, one of the brothers whose attack on Charlie Hebdo left a dozen dead. Cherif and his brother Said, who both died Friday in a separate raid at a printing facility about 25 miles outside Paris, were radicalized and are believed to have ties to Al Qaeda in Yemen.
The Paris prosecutor’s office told The New York Times that Boumeddiene had been in “constant and sustained” contact with Cherif’s girlfriend. The report said Cherif and Couibaly were followers of a French-Algerian jihad supporter named Djamel Beghal. He served time in prison for involvement in a plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris and was released.
Le Parisien newspaper reported that she lost her job as a cashier because she insisted on wearing a niqab.
French authorities planned to meet Sunday with various security officials to discuss the ongoing terror threat and warned of the possibility of more violence.
“We can’t lower our guard,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
Sky News reported that Boumeddiene may offer authorities valuable information on a larger extremist cell. Indeed, it appears that the attack’s planning may reach far into terror networks.
An Al Qaeda member on Friday provided a statement in English to The Associated Press saying “the leadership of AQAP directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully.”
There was no independent confirmation of the report, and U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials say it is too early to conclude who is responsible for the massacre on Wednesday that left 12 dead.
However, Cherif told a French TV station before Friday’s raid at an industrial park that he was sent by Al Qaeda in Yemen and had been financed by the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Yemen in 2011.
If confirmed, the attack would be the first time Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has successfully carried out an operation in the West after at least two earlier attempts.
Days of unrest in Paris culminated Friday after two tense, hours-long standoffs, one at the printing plant north of the city and the other at the kosher supermarket on Paris’ east side, where the four hostages were killed and as many as 15 were freed.
A hostage held north of the city by the brothers was reportedly freed. The fast-moving developments, signaled by explosions and gunfire at a printing plant in Dammartin-en-Goele, followed by similar sounds at a Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris. The police raids left both brothers and Coulibaly dead.
The Associated Press contributed to this report