The Slatest

France’s Most Wanted: Who Is Hayat Boumeddiene?

Pictured in this handout provided by the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire on Jan. 9, 2015, is suspect Hayat Boumeddiene.

Photo by Direction centrale de la Police judiciaire via Getty Images

French authorities are desperately searching for Hayat Boumeddiene, the only surviving suspect from the days of terror that engulfed France after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. Whether she actually participated in any of it, though, remains an open question. Authorities say she was an accomplice to her partner, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman on Thursday and took hostages at a kosher grocery store on Friday. Police have mounted a massive operation to find Boumeddiene, but it’s not clear she is even in France.

The Wall Street Journal hears word that she left France on Jan. 2, before the Charlie Hebdo killings, and is now in Syria. The Associated Press has gathered similar information from a Turkish intelligence official, who says Boumeddiene flew to Istanbul on Jan. 2 and stayed in Turkey for two days before disappearing near the Syria border. Le Parisien, however, says Boumeddiene and Coulibaly were seen together in Paris on Wednesday, according to the BBC. Although initial reports claimed Boumeddiene was at the kosher supermarket on Friday, officials said there was no indication that was the case.

For now, though, the 26-year-old remains the most wanted woman in France. And her life is shrouded in mystery. Boumeddiene, one of seven children, lost her mother when she was 6 years old and was put into foster care when her father, who worked as a delivery man, could not take care of her and her siblings, reports AFP. It isn’t clear when she turned to extremism. A photograph making the rounds in local media shows Boumeddiene wearing a bikini while on the beach alongside Coulibaly. Another photograph shows her fully veiled, posing with a crossbow—or as the Daily Mail puts it, “from bikini babe to burka-clad jihadi fighter.”

One neighbor tells CNN that Boumeddiene always seemed to wear a niqab.

Boumedienne married Coulibaly in 2009 in an Islamic ceremony that is not recognized by French law. She told French officials in 2010 that she began wearing a full Islamic veil after she got married, a decision that led her to lose her job as a cashier. The Journal notes that in an Internet forum, a woman who signed her name as Hayat Boumeddiene criticized the French law forbidding headscarves. When she was interviewed by French authorities in 2010, Boumedienne made it sound like she was the devout one, saying that Coulibaly “is not really very religious,” adding that “he likes to have a good time (and) all that,” according to the AP.

It was apparently Boumedienne who helped authorities make the connection between Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers, who perpetrated the attack against Charlie Hebdo. There was “constant and sustained” communication between Boumeddiene and Cherif Kouachi’s wife, according to Paris’ chief prosecutor, who said the two women spoke on the phone “more than 500 times” last year.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.