ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The suspected female accomplice of Islamist militants behind attacks in Paris was in Turkey five days before the killings and crossed into Syria on Jan. 8, Turkish officials said on Monday.
France launched a search for 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene after police killed her partner Amedy Coulibaly while storming a Jewish supermarket where he had taken hostages. Authorities described her as armed and dangerous.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in an interview on state-run Anatolian news agency’s website, said Boumeddiene had arrived in Istanbul from Madrid on Jan. 2. Turkey had received no request from Paris to deny her access.
“There is footage (of her) at the airport. Later on, she stayed at a hotel with another person and crossed into Syria on Jan. 8. We can tell that based on telephone records,” he said.
Those dates would put Boumeddiene in Turkey before the violence in Paris began, and leaving for Syria while the attackers were still hiding from police.
Coulibaly had said he was carrying out the attack in the name of Islamic State, a militant Islamist group that has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
Seventeen people, including journalists and policemen, were killed in three days of violence that began with the storming of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, Jan. 7, and ended with a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket on Friday when four hostages were killed.
Three gunmen were killed and there was some confusion at first about whether Boumeddiene had been present in the supermarket when police stormed it and had escaped.
Footage from security cameras posted on the HaberTurk news website showed a woman it identified as Boumeddiene walking with a man to passport control at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport after flying in from Madrid.
The woman is wearing a long dress and winter coat and her head is covered with a white head scarf. Her companion has a short pony tail. She is seen briefly conversing with a Turkish immigration officer before the undated footage ends.
An official French police photograph shows Boumeddiene as a young woman with long dark hair hitched back over her ears. French media released photos purporting to be of a fully-veiled Boumeddiene, posing with a cross-bow, in what they said was a 2010 training session in the mountainous Cantal region.
French media described her as one of seven children whose mother died when she was young and whose delivery-man father struggled to keep working while looking after the family. As an adult, she lost her job as a cashier when she converted to Islam and started wearing the niqab.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking at a press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Turkey could not blamed for allowing Boumeddiene to travel through its territory because it had not been asked to bar her.
“Is it Turkey’s fault that it has borders with Syria?” Davutoglu said, adding Turkey has kept its 900-km-long border with Syria open to allow in more than 1.6 million refugees since the conflict there began in 2011.
“We need to receive intelligence first so we can track people. We have 7,000 people on a no-entry list and deported 2,000, including French and German citizens,” Davutoglu said.
Syrian state television quoted a source at the Foreign ministry as saying Cavusoglu’s comments were a “clear formal confession that Turkey is still the main crossing for foreign terrorists into Syria.”
Damascus has repeatedly accused Turkey of supporting Islamist militants during the civil war and allowing fighters to cross its border. Turkey denies enabling passage of foreign fighters who have swollen the ranks of al Qaeda-linked factions.
Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Ece Toksabay and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Editing by Daren Butler and Ralph Boulton