You may have heard of Hasna Ait Boulahcen, the woman who died in a raid carried about by French police in the days after the attacks in Paris. Or you might have seen her on the website of the Daily Mail, which said it obtained exclusive photos of her, or the New York Post, which dubbed her the “skanky suicide bomber” in a front-page story
That was the characterization those tabloids ran with: that Boulahcen was, as the Daily Mail wrote, “a party animal with a string of boyfriends who had shown no interest in religion.” Here is what was said to be a photo of Boulahcen lounging in a bathtub blown up onto the front page of the Nov. 20 edition of the Post:
This sort of framing plays into society’s basest fears about terrorists, which is that they’re aren’t faceless soldiers learning to hate America in crude training camps based in faraway lands, but instead our neighbors, capable of being “radicalized” in less than a month.
The problem is that the woman that the Post confidently declared to be the “Paris suicide bomber” doesn’t appear to be her at all. That woman, pictured above, came forward today to say she is not Hasna Ait Boulahcen and has no connection to the group of people who carried out the Paris attacks. Instead, she says, her name is Nabila Bakkatha, she is from Morocco, and in an interview with CNN she alleges that the Daily Mail got duped into publishing her photo by an opportunistic ex-friend with a grudge.
“The photograph was taken by my friend, who sold it to a French journalist after the Paris attacks in revenge,” she tells CNN.
She says that she only found out about the circulation of her photo after friends called to tell her that her face was splashed on front pages across the world.
Bakkatha tells CNN that she is in the process of suing the woman who sold her photos as well as, in the words of CNN, “the journalist who bought them.” CNN doesn’t name that journalist, or who that person works for, but the Daily Mail was the first publication to publish it, as the photo credit in the bottom left corner of the Post cover indicates.
In a tweet in which the bathtub image is preserved, the Daily Mail credited the image to Simon Ashton. In a weird twist “Simon Ashton” was the colloquial name for a widespread hacker prank that hit England several years ago, though there is also a Linkedin page for a Simon Ashton with British tabloid affiliation. How “Simon Ashton” is connected to the photo is still unclear
In a video for AJ+ (Al Jazeera’s viral video arm), from which the screencap at the top of this post is taken from, Bakkatha says that “the journalist didn’t research or anything, he just published what he got,” which certainly appears to be true.
It’s hard now to find the actual bathtub photo because both the Daily Mail and the New York Post have pulled it from their websites, though the articles they originally ran with still exist. Those stories purport show the real Hasna Ait Boulahcen, but in the race to explain the Saint-Denis raid, both publications may have grossly mischaracterized her identity too.
The day that the Post published their “THUG IN A TUB” cover, they ran another article on their website that clarified one important part of the story: Boulahcen, the “skanky suicide bomber” whose body was obliterated in an explosion, did not actually detonate a suicide vest during the raid:
Witnesses said the woman — who became radicalized just a month ago after a life of sex, booze and smokes — shouted “Help me, help me!” and “He’s not my boyfriend” seconds before the explosion, which sent her head shooting out the apartment’s window and across the street.
Authorities initially believed that she was the one wearing the suicide vest.
The post’s immediate reversal of Ait Boulahcen as a suicide bomber can be seen in this helpful screencap from its website:
I’ve reached out to the Daily Mail and New York Post, as well as Simon Ashton, and will update this post if we receive any comment.
If you have any information regarding how these photos trickled up to the pages of the Daily Mail and/or the New York Post, please email me.
[screencap via AJ+]