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Turkey says Boumeddiene crossed into Syria last week

Hayat Boumeddiene, whose partner is suspected of killing a French policewoman last week, reportedly arrived in Syria on 8 January
Hayat Boumeddiene at Sabiha Gokcen Airport on 2 January (AFP PHOTO/IHLAS NEWS AGENCY/TURKEY OUT)

Hayat Boumeddiene, the wanted partner of one of the gunmen behind the terror attacks in France, crossed into conflict-torn Syria last week after travelling through Turkey, the Turkish authorities said Monday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Boumeddiene had crossed into Syria on 8 January, the same day that her partner Amedy Coulibaly is suspected of shooting dead a policewoman outside Paris on the second day of the Paris attacks.

"She entered Turkey on January 2 from Madrid. There are images of her at the airport," Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by state-run news agency Anatolia.  

"Then she crossed into Syria on January 8. This is clear from the telephone records."

Cavusoglu said the 26-year-old, who had married Coulibaly in an Islamic ceremony, stayed at a hotel in the Kadikoy district on the Asian side of Istanbul and was accompanied by another person.

He did not give further details on the identity of the other individual and did not make clear if she had travelled to Syria on her own. 

'No warning from France' 

Cavusoglu added that Turkey passed the information to the French authorities "even before they asked for it" as soon as Ankara identified her whereabouts.

"We told them: 'The person you are looking for was here, stayed here and crossed into Syria illegally'," he said. 

Interior Minister Efkan Ala also said Turkey did not refuse Boumeddiene entry because French authorities had made no such request and that they hadn't warned Ankara that she was "dangerous".

He added that Turkey's intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), and the police were still working to shed more light on the matter.

A Turkish security source earlier told AFP that Boumeddiene had entered Turkey on 2 January and was believed to have moved on to the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa and then to Syria.

But Turkey did not arrest her because of a lack of timely intelligence from France, the source said.

Turkish officials' comments confirm that Boumeddiene was already outside France when the three-day killing spree began, contrary to earlier speculation that she had been involved in the attacks which claimed 17 lives.

The killings began on 7 January when brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed the Paris offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, slaughtering 12 people.

Coulibaly on 9 January took hostages at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris which was then raided by police in the evening. The gunman and four hostages were killed. The Kouachi brothers were also killed after a separate hostage-taking incident.

A man resembling Coulibaly, claimed to be a member of the Islamic State (IS) group in a posthumous video released online on Sunday.

'Under surveillance' 

Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper reported that MIT took action following reports that Boumeddiene was in Turkey and put her under surveillance due to her "suspicious behaviour". 

She stayed at the hotel in the Kadikoy for two days with a man named Mahdi Sabri and left the hotel only twice during her stay, Yeni Safak said.

The last signal received from her phone showed that she was in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, the daily said.

Press reports have speculated that she may have joined IS fighters who have captured swathes of Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border. However, there has has so far been no concrete proof of this.

Western countries have long accused Turkey of not doing enough to stem the flow of fighters seeking to join IS fighters in neighbouring Syria.

But Ankara insists it has now stepped up border security and has repeatedly said the West also has a responsibility to share intelligence.

"Foreign fighters posed a serious problem for Turkey too but we have taken important steps," Cavusoglu said. "As Turkey, we are against every kind of terrorism no matter which race, religion, sect or region it comes from."

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