THE hunt for France’s most wanted woman continued last night as the widow of kosher supermarket terrorist Amedy Coulibaly remained in hiding.
Detectives arrested and began interrogating the wives of the Kouachi brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in a bid to track down the whereabouts of Hayat Boumeddiene, who is described as armed and dangerous.
The 26-year-old French Algerian is believed to have gone on the run after her husband, Coulibaly, shot and killed policewoman Clarissa Jean-Phillippe, south of Paris on Thursday.
It had been reported Boumeddiene was an accomplice in the kosher supermarket siege in eastern Paris, which left four hostages and her husband dead on Friday. But she is now not thought to have been there at any time, having fled after the murder of policewoman, Jean-Philippe. It is thought she may now be in Syria.
Hundreds of phone calls between Boumeddiene and Izzana Hamyd, wife of Cherif Kouachi, have shown up on mobile records – 500 in all were made last year.
Also being held is the wife or girlfriend of the older Kouachi brother, Said. Five other people are in custody, and family members of the attackers are among several given preliminary charges so far.
The attack on the kosher market came before sundown on the Jewish Sabbath, when the store would have been crowded with shoppers. President François Hollande called it “a terrifying anti-Semitic act”.
French radio RTL released audio yesterday of Coulibaly, in which he lashes out over western military campaigns against extremists in Syria and Mali. He describes Osama bin Laden as an inspiration.
One of his hostages said on France 2 television that the gunman told them: “‘Me, I’m not scared of dying. Either I die, or I get a 40-year prison sentence.’” The woman was identified only as Marie, and didn’t show her face.
Police named Boumeddiene as an accomplice and think she is armed. “You must consider her as the companion of a dangerous terrorist who needs to be questioned,” Christophe Crepin, spokesman for the UNSA police union, said yesterday. “Since 2010, she has had a relationship with an individual whose ideology translates into violence and the execution of poor people who were just doing their shopping in a supermarket.”
Boumeddiene is a one-time cashier who reportedly married Coulibaly in a religious ceremony four years after he was convicted of armed robbery. Because their marriage was not a civil ceremony, the government of France does not recognise their matrimony.
According to law enforcement officials, as part of a 2010 investigation into Coulibaly’s possible ties to Islamic extremism, Boumeddiene told police examiners that she had become radicalised by her lover, and that she viewed America as the ultimate evil. “When I saw the massacre of the innocents in Palestine, in Iraq, in Chechnya, in Afghanistan or anywhere the Americans sent their bombers, all that,” she reportedly said, “well, who are the terrorists?”
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people marched yesterday in cities from Toulouse in the south to Rennes in the west to honour the 17 victims of the three attackers. In Paris, security forces guarded places of worship and tourist sites, and prepared for what’s likely to be a huge silent march today against extremists. Two dozen world leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister David Cameron, are among the many expected to join.
“On Sunday, the French people will cry out their love of liberty,” said prime minister Manuel Valls. France would be “firm and relentless in the face of the enemies of liberty”, he added, urging all people to “assume their responsibilities”.
This week’s drama began with brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi methodically massacring 12 people on Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo offices. They were cornered on Friday at a printing house in Dammartin-en-Goele near Charles de Gaulle Airport, prompting a daylong standoff with police.
Coulibaly shot a policewoman to death south of Paris on Thursday. The next day, he attacked the Paris kosher market, threatening more violence unless police let the Kouachis go. It all ended at dusk Friday with near-simultaneous raids at the printing plant and the kosher market in eastern Paris.
Four hostages were found dead at the market – killed by Coulibaly, prosecutors said. Sixteen hostages were freed, one from the printing plant and 15 from the store.
Witnesses to the dramas struggled yesterday to come to terms with what happened. “There is a before and after. Friday there was the shock effect. Today we wake up feeling a little bit bizarre,” said Thierry Claudet, resident of Dammartin-en-Goele. “Now I think we need a bit of time to digest all of what happened.” Mourners continued to pile flowers and notes on a monument to the victims at Charlie Hebdo. “They wanted to bury us, they didn’t know that we were seeds. Mexican proverb,” read one note.
Speaking after an emergency meeting called by President Hollande yesterday, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for “extreme vigilance,” saying that “given the context, we are exposed to risks.”
A security perimeter was briefly imposed at Disneyland Paris before being lifted yesteday, a spokeswoman said.
Cazeneuve said the government is maintaining its terror alert system at the highest level in the Paris region, and said investigators are focusing on determining whether the attackers were part of a larger extremist network.
Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen said it directed Wednesday’s attack against the publication Charlie Hebdo to avenge the honour of the Prophet Muhammad, a frequent target of the weekly’s satire.