The shooting spree that terrorized Paris over the last few days turns out to be one hell of a sequel. The alleged gunner, Abdelhakim Dekhar, was the “third man” who served as lookout for a murderous pair of students dubbed the “Natural Born Killers” of France back in 1994. Dekhar did four years in prison for his part in their brief rampage, after he failed to persuade the court that he was really working undercover for the Algerian secret services, trying to penetrate anarchist groups that might be connected with Islamist and terrorist organizations.
On Tuesday, police found the 49-year-old Dekhar, known as Toumi, comatose in a car in a parking lot on the outskirts of Paris. Last Friday, he allegedly brandished a shotgun at a TV station; on Monday, he’d nearly killed a young man at a newspaper, then shot up a bank and hijacked a car before disappearing into the Metro near the Champs-Élysées. DNA collected from those crime scenes matched the suspect’s, according to the French interior ministry.
A man who’d given Dekhar lodgings tipped off authorities after seeing the surveillance-camera images released by police. The cops said that when they found Dekhar, he appeared to have tried to commit suicide with a heavy dose of drugs and as of Wednesday morning they still had not been able to question him or glean his motives. Some diatribes about Libya, Syria, and suffering in the Arab world reportedly have been found among his effects. Among them is a rant about a “fascist plot” and the way the media make people swallow lies in small doses. But given his record of delusional claims, police are not yet ascribing a political motive to his alleged crimes.
In the meantime, if the background on this case sounds wild, it absolutely is.
The 1994 saga of 23-year-old philosophy student Audry Maupin and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Florence Rey, is the stuff of legend, and not only in France. Maupin and Rey inspired books, movie projects, and even a hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll paean in the United States, “F*** the People,” by the indie band The Kills.
As that group’s singer, Alison Mosshart, told Electronic Beats last year, Rey and her boyfriend “lived in Paris and were just tired of being dumbed down, so they stole a car, ended up in a chase and then shot loads of people. It was all ‘Viva anarchy!’ and whatnot.”
During the 1994 killing spree, an African-born taxi driver, three French cops, and Maupin were killed in a mad chase through Paris that lasted less than 30 minutes. “People wanted to know what it meant and why they’d done it,” said Mosshart. But what really kept the story going was the fact that Rey was beautiful. “She looked like a film star, with her orange bob cut and chiseled face,” said Mosshart, who used a photo of her on one of The Kills’ EPs. “It was like art imitating life imitating art. I like the chaos in that.”
Dekhar, a pudgy-faced older guy with a North African background who hung out on the fringes of anarchist circles, became a mere footnote to the romanticized narrative of doomed young lovers and would-be revolutionaries. But articles about Dekhar’s trial published in 1998 by Libération—the newspaper where he allegedly shot a young photo assistant on Monday morning—suggest he was central to the plot. They quoted acquaintances testifying he “played the role of a schoolmaster, a priest” when he was around the couple, “never missing a chance to show them they were young and inexperienced.”
Rey, the daughter of a schoolteacher and a plumber, had been a good student in high school before she fell obsessively in love with the handsome and politically passionate Maupin. They lived in a squat on the outskirts of Paris without running water or heat, and winter was coming on. They needed money. They started to plan a robbery.
Dekhar had bought one of the shotguns used in the October 1994 crime spree at La Samaritaine, a department store, a few months before. (Although gun laws are much stricter in France than in the United States, shotguns intended for hunting are widely and relatively easily available.)
Dekhar claimed he’d never met Maupin and Rey, and that he worked for the Algerian secret services, which were waging a savage war against Islamist revolutionaries in overt combat on their home turf, and in covert operations abroad. (Years later, some of those Islamists formed the group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is still very active in North Africa.) The court didn’t buy Dekhar’s story, and considered him a compulsive liar. But in the end it convicted him only of “association with criminals.” He was sentenced to four years and released immediately because of time served.
According to some of the court testimony in the 1990s cited by the Libération articles, Dekhar and Maupin had decided to target the armed guards at an impound lot for towed cars, steal their pistols, then use them for holdups. They had not wanted to include Rey in their heist, she told the court, but she could not stand to be away from Maupin for a moment, especially if she thought he would be in danger.
She reportedly bought a shotgun herself, as well as the balaclavas to cover their faces. And it was Rey and Maupin who held up the guards, while Dekhar stood lookout. They’d planned to handcuff their victims to a radiator then flee into the Metro. But the guards didn’t have any handcuffs. So Rey and Maupin sprayed the guards with their own Mace-type aerosol and took off running in a panic. Dekhar, meanwhile, had disappeared.
Rey ran into the middle of the street and stopped a taxi that already had a passenger in it. The driver, Amadou Diallo, was a courtly African immigrant who made it a point to wear a tie as he worked. (He was not related, as far as we know, to the innocent man shot by police in New York in an infamous incident in 1999.) The passenger was a doctor, who testified that Rey grabbed Diallo’s ear and threatened to cut it off if he didn’t give them his papers. When the physician tried to calm her down, he testified, she shouted at him, “Enough of your psychology, doctor!”
As luck would have it, the controversial Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers, about a crazed young American couple on a hallucinatory murder spree, was playing in French theaters just then. So subsequent headlines made a facile connection with media violence. Some anarchist tracts were found in Maupin’s squat, as well. He’d been active in protests against the 1991 Gulf War and was a member of a self-styled anti-fascist group called SCALP, focused on opposition to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the then-leader of the far-right National Front party.
But there’s no evidence that Maupin or Rey intended to provoke the bloodbath that was to come that night in October.
As they fled the scene of their holdup, the terrified taxi driver took them to Place de la Nation in the eastern part of Paris. But when he saw a police car, he stopped, jumped out, and ran toward the officers. Maupin opened fire and Diallo and two cops died in the shootout. Maupin took a bullet in the leg, and when Rey saw he was wounded, she shouted at the doctor to come help. He refused. She squeezed off a few rounds in his direction, but he still managed to escape.
The blood-covered lovers hijacked another car that took them toward the Bois de Vincennes, a huge park on the eastern side of Paris, but by then a motorcycle cop was on their tail. Rey’s shotgun jammed. Maupin took it, put a fresh round in the chamber and used the rear-view mirror to target the policeman. “Take him down!” she shouted, according to the hijacked driver’s testimony. “Take him down!” Rey wanted the driver to try to spin around in a U-turn “like in the movies.” But by then other motorcycle cops were closing in, and they’d set up a roadblock. The hostage driving the car came to a screeching halt. A firefight broke out and another cop was killed, but this time there was no getting away. Maupin took four bullets in the chest and died in hospital a few hours later.
Rey, after sitting for long hours in stony silence, eventually gave the police her last name. When they identified another man as a possible accomplice, she fingered Dekhar, who was arrested later than same October.
After Dekhar was released from prison in 1998, he reportedly spent some time living in London, but thus far little is known about his activities there or in France.
Rey, unhurt apart from a scratch on her cheek, eventually was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her role in the killings. She studied accounting and was released in 2009, after serving 15 years. Even then, she was still only 34 years old and today she’s not yet 40.
So far, nobody has been able to interview Rey. Whether she had any contact with Dekhar these past two decades, whether she knew anything about his shooting spree over the last week, and what she thinks might have motivated it are all questions that the French public will want answered.
The conservative daily Le Figaro reports on it Web site that while in prison, Rey carried on a “fiery correspodence” with a movie director in France named Jacques Richard, and that when she got out of jail, she worked with him behind the camera as an assistant, and in front of it as an extra. The Web site Le Mague ran a picture of her apparently taken on the set. She is dressed like a nun, but without a head covering. She has a large rosary and a cross around her neck.
One thinks of art imitating life imitating art, and all the chaos that can bring.