"I feel relaxed and calm," Hayat Boumeddiene told her friends. It was last October, and the 26-year-old was in her father's living room on the eastern outskirts of Paris, after having just returned from the Hajj, the sacred Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, with her partner Amedy Coulibaly.
Three months later Coulibaly, on January 8 and 9, would kill five people in terror attacks in and around Paris, while investigators say Boumeddiene has fled France, probably toward Syria.
This week's issue of the French magazine L'Obs features a six-page investigation on the young woman, titled "The Fugitive".
In what would be the last time her French friends saw her, Boumeddiene recounted the trip to Mecca. "It's an amazing journey, spiritually speaking," she told them. "It's a way to fight away everything that is evil within us."
The weekly recounts how Boumeddiene went from living an ordinary life in the outskirts of Paris to becoming France's — and the world's — most wanted woman. There are descriptions of seemingly typical desires to "succeed in life" and at school, as well as her escape for Syria with two known radical Islamists in early January 2015.
Her friends describe how Boumeddiene transformed from "religious but not proselytizing" to wearing a full veil and discussing jihad. There are also details how she seemed to be living as a happy couple with Coulibaly, before buying the weapons that would kill a policewoman and four Jewish shoppers in a kosher market.
it is a tale that has become to sound familiar of how someone in the West become progressively more radical with religious fervor and a strong sense of injustice.
The questions French investigators are now trying to answer are who brainwashed whom, and how involved was she in the terror attacks themselves? Will she ever reappear, serving Islamist propaganda from Syria, where she took refuge after crossing the Turkish border?
ABOUT THE SOURCE: L'Obs, formerly known as Le Nouvel Observateur ("The New Observer") is France's most-read weekly newsmagazine. Founded in 1964, it is owned by Bergé-Niel-Pigasse and the Groupe Perdriel.