It was before dawn on Wednesday, but the gun battle in the Saint-Denis suburb of Paris had already gone on for some time. Elite police units had exchanged hundreds of rounds with a group of suspected terrorists who’d taken refuge in a fortified flat.
The raid was of crucial importance: The French authorities had reason to believe that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a key leader in the previous week’s attacks, was hiding in the apartment.
Suddenly, a woman appeared in one of the windows of the flat.
“If you move your hands, I’ll shoot!” a police officer shouted at her, according to audio of the attack obtained by ABC News.
“Help me!” the woman screamed back. “I’m scared!”
“Where’s your copain?” the police responded, using a French word that can mean "friend," "partner," "companion," or "boyfriend."
“He’s not my copain!” the woman screamed.
Moments later, a loud explosion went off inside the building, sending flames, debris, and body parts flying onto the street below.
In the days that followed, several news organizations from around the world reported that the woman in the window was Hasna Ait Boulahcen, a 26-year-old Frenchwoman of North African descent said to be related to Abaaoud.
Citing anonymous police sources, the outlets reported that Boulahcen had died after detonating a suicide vest, which would make her Euorpe’s first female suicide bomber.
The intimate details of Boulahcen's life quickly became the subject of countless articles. The Daily Mail published pictures of her in a bathtub. The Guardian called her a "party girl" and cited acquaintances who described her rapid transformation from social drinker to a hardcore jihadist who boasted of her plans to move to Syria.
"She was extroverted, a bit lost," one of Boulahcen's neighbors told Libération. "I remember her very well, we used to call her 'cowgirl' because she always wore a big hat."
But now, police sources cited by several outlets said although it is possible Boulahcen died in the blast, she might not have detonated the bomb.
François Molins, the head prosecutor for Paris and the main official spokesperson for the progress of the investigation, has said precious little about the suicide bombing in Saint-Denis.
Molins's office has acknowledged that the body of a woman was found in the debris of the apartment, close to a passport belonging to Boulahcen, but has repeatedly said that the body has not been identified with any certainty. Besides the woman, Molins said, police found Abaaoud’s corpse and a third unidentified body, which appears to belong to a man.
Anonymous French officials have reportedly said that the country's intelligence services were monitoring Boulahcen, and that her trail led them to Abaaoud. But Molins has never said publicly that Boulahcen detonated the bomb.
"All our information," Molins said in a Wednesday press conference on the raids, "remains preliminary."
Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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