Details have emerged about the whistleblower who gave French police the tip that led to the discovery the mastermind behind the Paris bombings.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who orchestrated the attack on Paris on November 13, was killed in a raid in his hideout in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis Nov. 18. An account of the events leading up to his discovery was recently published in The Washington Post after the paper obtained dozens of documents from the French investigation of the incident.
The whistleblower, a Muslim woman in her 40s, who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, chose to speak to The Post.
“It’s important the world knows that I am Muslim myself,” she said. “It’s important to me that people know what Abaaoud and the others did is not what Islam is teaching.”
A number of years ago, the woman had opened her house to Abaaoud’s first cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen, 26, a troubled, young woman. Aitboulahcen lived with the woman off and on from 2011 to 2014.
“She would run away for two weeks, come back a month, over and over again,” the woman told The Post. “She took a lot of drugs, mostly cocaine, and drank too much.”
In 2014, Aitboulahcen started to become radicalized. She began wearing a niqab (face veil) and expressed extremist Islamist views. At the same time, she began “chatting with someone in Syria” through WhatsApp on her smartphone. Although the woman did not know the identity of the person on the other end of those conversations, French investigators say it was likely Abaaoud, with whom Aitboulahcen wanted to marry.
Abaaoud travelled to Syria in 2013 to fight with the Islamic State and rose in its ranks due to his “brash personality and a sadistic streak” that fit well with the brutal terror organization.
A few nights before the police raid on Abaaoud’s safehouse, Aitboulahcen received an anonymous phone call from Belgium. Replying to her skepticism, the caller said, “I’m not going to explain everything. You saw what happened on TV.”
The caller told her that her cousin needed help to find a place to hide “for no more than a day or two.”
Hoping the call was not a prank, Aitboulahcen was ready to offer her services, although at the time, the woman recalled, both she and Aitboulahcen were unsure to which cousin the caller was referring, as Abaaoud had kidnapped his 13-year-old brother and taken him to Syria as well.
Neither of them dreamed it was Abaaoud, who was the most wanted man in Europe at the time.
Aitboulahcen was directed to a nighttime meeting in a wooded area in the Paris suburb Auberville. The woman and her husband drove Aitboulahcen to the meeting, but the woman’s husband stayed in the car.
At the appointed time, there was another anonymous call, this time giving Aitboulahcen directions to Abaaoud’s hideout. Arriving at the pre-arranged spot, the women were both startled when Abaaoud jumped out from behind a bush.
Jumping into Abaaoud’s arms, Aitboulahcen exclaimed, “Hamid, you’re alive!” By now, the woman also recognized Abaaoud – but from his videos she had seen on TV that showed him dragging dead bodies behind a truck in Syria – and became angry.
Abaaoud boasted to the women about the Paris attacks he had orchestrated and how he was plotting more that would make the Paris attacks pale in comparison. He also told them that dozens of Islamic State operatives had entered Europe posing as refugees.
The woman pressed Abaaoud to explain how he justified the deaths of so many innocent people. “He said we were lost sheep and that he wanted to blow us all up,” the woman recalled.
Abaaoud gave Aitboulahcen money to secure a place and buy him and a friend upscale clothing, which authorities think he was planning to use in an upcoming attack on Paris’ financial district.
Abaaoud accompanied the two women back to the car. After riding about 150 yards, he asked to be let out, apparently suspicious of the woman’s husband behind the wheel. As the car drove off, Aitboulahcen received a phone call from the same anonymous caller. “You can tell the little couple that if they talk, my brothers will take care of them,” the caller threatened.
Upon arriving at home, the woman tried to get Aitboulahcen drunk so that she could call the police, but that plan failed. The woman said she was too scared to call the police with Aitboulahcen in the house that evening, but the next day, when Aitboulahcen left for a short time, she made the call.
By that night she was sitting with French security officials, relating all the happenings of the previous evening.
The next 24 hours were tense. Security officials were monitoring Aitboulahcen’s phone through eavesdropping equipment stored in vehicles they were driving through Saint-Denis, where Aitboulahcen had found an apartment for Abaaoud and his accomplice.
The next evening Aitboulahcen left the woman’s apartment to deliver the clothes and left-over money to Abaaoud. When the woman asked Aitboulahcen if she could pick her up later, Aitboulahcen gave her the address, which the woman then relayed to the police.
As Aitboulahcen was leaving, “It seemed like she was saying goodbye,” the woman recalled. “She told me that she loved me, that I’d been a great mother to her, that I would go to heaven.”
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