PARIS — Amedy Coulibaly burst into French consciousness on Friday in a hail of bullets after he seized a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris. But he was well known to French authorities beforehand.
French media quickly painted a rich portrait of Coulibaly’s life before an assault on newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the killing of a Paris police officer and the dual hostage situations on Friday, which Coulibaly said Friday had been directed by “Daesh,” or the Islamic State. He had been under the eye of French authorities for years — although former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s security advisers apparently failed to detect any ties to Islamic militants ahead of the likely 2009 meeting with the president. The Parisien newspaper wrote at the time that Coulibaly had been selected to meet the French leader at the Elysee Palace as part of an effort to promote youth employment
Coulibaly, 32, was born in 1982 in the Paris suburb of Juvisy-sur-Orge, the only boy in a Senegalese family including nine daughters, according to French media, citing pdolice reports.
In and out of prison since 2001,Coulibaly is believed to have converted to radical Islam while serving time for armed robbery in 2005. Prison is where he met Cherif Kouachi, a senior French police official said. The two men became devoted followers of Djamel Beghal, a French Algerian man with ties to al-Qaeda who was convicted in 2001 of plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
When Coulibaly was freed in 2006, he took a job at a Coca-Cola factory outside Paris. French security services apparently deemed him safe enough to meet Sarkozy in 2009.
“I’ll enjoy it,” Coulibaly told le Parisien newspaper in July 2009, the day before he was scheduled to meet with Sarkozy. But Coulibaly confessed that the center-right French leader wasn’t loved in the working-class neighborhoods where he grew up.
“In truth, in the cities, with youth, Sarkozy isn’t very popular,” he said. “But it’s nothing personal. In fact, that’s the case with the majority of politicians,” he said.
Coulibaly was apparently still engaged in quiet militant activity. Just 10 months after his likely meeting with Sarkozy, police searched his apartment and found 240 rounds of 7.62mm rifle ammunition — the caliber used in most Kalashnikov assault rifles. He told police at the time that he planned to sell the ammunition on the street, not use it himself. Police said Coulibaly tried to break another Islamist militant, Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, out of prison in 2013. Although he was convicted and sentenced in 2013 to five years in prison related to the prison-break attempt, he was released early.
Along the way, he met Hayat Boumediene, French media reports said, the other “armed and dangerous” suspect in the Thursday killing of a French police officer. The two lived together as a couple, and Boumediene was still at large as of Friday evening.
Before Coulibaly was killed on Friday when French security forces stormed the kosher grocery store where he was holding hostages, Coulibaly told French BFM-TV that he had coordinated the attacks with the Kouachi brothers “from the start. They started for Charlie Hebdo, and I started for police officers.”
He claimed to have been sent by the Islamic State. Cherif Kouachi told the same channel on Friday that he had been sent by al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, usually considered a rival organization. The discrepancy could not be explained on Friday, as both men were dead.
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