Paris attacks: 'I exposed Abaaoud' says witness

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Abaaoud had been sentenced by a Paris court in absentia while in Syria

A woman has revealed how she told police where to find one of the lead Paris attackers, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

She described how she was with Abaaoud's cousin when they met the killer two days after the 13 November attacks in which 130 people died.

Abaaoud told her he was proud of what he had done and claimed that some 90 others had travelled from Syria and were still in the Paris area.

He and his cousin both died when police raided their flat days later.

The woman, identified only as Sonia, told French radio station RMC she was with Abaaoud's cousin, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, when her friend received a phone-call telling her to get a car to pick someone up.

The two women went together to an industrial area of Aubervilliers, in the Saint-Denis area of northern Paris.

After Boulahcen had called out a special code, 10-10, Abaaoud emerged from a bush wearing "a sun hat, orange trainers and bomber jacket".

"He was smiling too, he didn't look like a terrorist at all," she said.

Sonia describes how Boulahcen cried out "Hamid, you're alive. What are you doing here?" and how he tells her he needs a place to stay for 48 hours.

Image source, Rex
Image caption,
Hasna Ait Boulahcen died with her cousin and another man in the 18 November police raid

Abaaoud, a Belgian national, was well known to French authorities before the Paris attacks and had been given a 20-year jail sentence in absentia months earlier for recruiting for so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria. He was thought to have joined IS in 2013.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has implicated him in four out of six Islamist attacks that were foiled in France in 2015.

In her interview, in which her voice is heavily disguised, Sonia describes engaging Abaaoud in conversation:

Sonia: Were you involved in what happened - on the 13 November?

Abaaoud: The cafe-terraces was me.

Sonia: But you killed innocent people.

Abaaoud: No, they weren't innocent. You should see what's happening to us in Syria.

Who were 13 November killers?

During the car journey, Abaaoud then tells the women how he and others came back to France from Syria without official documents.

As many as 90 people - Syrians, Iraqis, French and English people - had travelled to France and were scattered around the Paris area, he tells them.

Having told his cousin to find him a hideout and spare shoes and clothes, Abaaoud then jumps out of the car and Sonia describes how she told Boulahcen to contact police.

Boulahcen refuses, explaining he has to finish his job and then he will leave.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The woman identified as Sonia says after she went to police, they raided the flat Boulahcen had found for Abaaoud

Chillingly, Sonia says more attacks were to come, at a shopping centre, a police station and a nursery in La Defense business district in Paris.

Abaooud's exact words, she says were: "Some of the attacks were botched and I'm here to make sure there won't be any more that are botched."

She then describes phoning the emergency number given out by the French government for information about the attackers.

Police raided the hideout on 18 November, killing Abaaoud, Hasna Ait Boulahcen and a second man, identified last month as Chakib Akrouh, another Belgian Moroccan, who was 25.

In her account, Sonia explains she came forward because she feels abandoned by the authorities and lacking necessary protection.

Police told her to change her name and town, but because she still has the same identity card Sonia complains that she is unable to find work. And because she has not been given police protection, she worries for her life.