One last ride: Europe's first female suicide bomber nicknamed 'Cowgirl'

Published November 20th, 2015 - 06:00 GMT

Posing with two fingers up to the camera, this is Europe's first female suicide bomber whose head flew through a window and landed on the street when she blew herself up during the Saint-Denis siege.

Hasna Ait Boulahacen screamed, "Help me, help me!", before detonating her suicide vest packed full of explosives as French anti-terror police moved in on the militants' hiding place.

Her head and spine flew through a window before a ferocious gun battle in Saint Denis where the mastermind of the Paris bombings, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed.

Witnesses said she went to a nearby KFC restaurant to buy some food and looked 'relaxed' just hours before the blast.

According to MailOnline Ait Boulahacen, 26, Abaaoud's cousin, was an "extrovert" who drank alcohol and was nicknamed "the cowgirl" due to her love of wearing big cowboy hats.

Neighbours to the family of Ait Boulahacen who live in a run-down suburb of Paris said the female suicide bomber had been there three weeks ago.

They said she had a bubbly personality, adding that she was "outgoing, a bit clueless." They were shocked to see her face appear on the news.

One neighbour, Hassane, described her as a "tomboy" and said she always dressed in jeans, trainers and a black cap until around eight months ago when she started wearing a niqab.

He said: "She wasn't scared of anyone. She was like a little soldier. She was very lively, very dynamic."

"She didn't have a niqab [headscarf] before. She was always in jeans and trainers. She was a very well-spoken girl. She was very respectful."

The retired 62-year-old said that Hasna was always very helpful and had once carried his heavy shopping for him.

He said Hasna's mother had been comforted by the caretaker in the building and had spent last night crying.

He added: "I can't believe she's part of this sect. When I heard it I felt sick. She was like all young girls - it was who she was hanging out with."

"We have been tainted by these people that know nothing aboutIslam."

Another said: "She did not look like a suicide bomber and she drank alcohol." 

Moroccan-born Ait Boulahacen's family arrived in France in 1973 and settled in Paris, where she was born in 1989 in Clichy-la-Garenne, a suburb close to Wednesday's gun siege.

She had been brought up in foster families and her parents had separated when she was young, they said. 

Hasna's mother, whose first name is not known, lives in a tower block in Aulnay Sous Bois, a suburb 20 minutes outside of Paris.

It is understood that although Hasna visited often, she did not live there permanently. 

Friends said she remained "close" to her father and would regularly visit his home in Creutzwald, Moselle.

Ait Boulahacen studied at Paul Verlaine University in Metz. She repeatedly threatened the French government and expressed her desire to wage jihad, according to Républicain Lorrain. 

She was registered as a director of building company, Beko Construction, in Epinay sur Seine, three miles from yesterday's raid. The company was liquidated last year. 

It is believed that Abaaoud was also killed in the raid yesterday morning, however French authorities have yet to confirm the death.

One witness, known only as Christian, 20, said he heard a woman yelling "Help me!" after a 15 minute lull in the firefight. 

He told Le Parisien: "The police asked her to identify herself, and to show herself. She held her hands up but she didn't reveal her face."

"The police shouted at her: 'Keep your hands in the air!' They told her: 'We're going to shoot.'"

"The police were firing from the roof of the building opposite. Suddenly there was an enormous explosion. It was probably the woman who blew herself up."

"The windows shattered. Lots of objects from the apartment were thrown into the street, pieces of human flesh as well. They are still there. You can see a bit of the head, of skin, of ribs."

Jean-Michel Fauvergue, 56, the French anti-terror commander who led the raid told of the gruesome moment he witnessed a woman's head "fly through a window."

He said: "After a long firefight, we heard a loud explosion. The windows of an apartment were shattered, blown from inside to outside." 

"That's when we saw a human body, a woman's head, fly through the window and land on the pavement, on the other side of the street."

"A suicide bomber had just exploded. The blast was so devastating that a supporting wall moved."

Mr Fauvergue said a sniper shot a male militant who was spraying the police with bullets but "despite this, the shots [from the militant] continued."

The sniper, who believed they were protecting a third man inside, launched a grenade into the building.

Mr Fauvergue said the militants were "real professionals" who were 'super motivated'. He said his team fired at least 5,000 rounds and a number of grenades using rifle mounted launchers during the siege.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said detailed forensic work was still going on to establish who the militants killed in the gun battle were.

Security sources have claimed Abaaoud was killed but he and Salal Abdeslam, the 29-year-old who hired cars and hotel rooms for the Paris killers, could still be at large.

Eight people were arrested in the raid, including two found in the rubble of the building close to the Stade de France, where last Friday's attacks started with suicide bombings during a France-Germany football international.

Mr Fauvergue told Le Parisien how officers were wounded by grenades thrown by the militants and Diesel, the police dog sent in to sniff out explosives, was killed.

Mr Fauvergue said: "We were subjected to heavy fire, with real professionals facing us. They were shooting in bursts, or in single shots, in turn, so that their fire didn't stop."

"This also allowed them to save their ammunition. They were super motivated. This first phase lasted more than half an hour."

"Grenades were thrown at our feet. These caused numerous wounds to the arms and legs of the raid commandos. We replied in kind. The intensity of their firing was calmer. It became sporadic."

"We sent a dog in to explore the place. He was killed. There's little doubt that he saved the lives of police officers who were about to enter."

Describing the death of the male militant, Mr Fauvergue said: "The situation wasn't clear. Sure we had them 'fixed,' but we still didn't know how many were inside."

"Snipers engaged fire, hitting a militant. Despite this, the shots continued. Two theories – he was fighting for his life, or there was a third man inside. Our snipers thus launched grenades to saturate the space."

"The building was very dilapidated. At different times of the assault, floors gave way, just like the water pipes."

"We couldn't advance. We concentrated on a slower approach, using tracked robots which were blocked by the rubble. Outside, drones equipped with cameras watched the skylight. A second dog opened the way."

"We also came down a floor, entering the apartment on the second floor, situated directly below. It was there that we came across a body."

"Poles with cameras on the end allowed us to see what was happening upstairs. It was chaotic."

President Francois Hollande has declare a State of Emergency in France, warning that further militant attacks are likely.

Editor's note: This article has been edited from the source material

By: Hannah Roberts, Peter Allen, Jenny Stanton, Fidelma Cook, and Nick Fagge

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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