A week of racing against the clock, which was not enough. Sihem Belouahmia, 18, was found dead on the night of Wednesday February 1 to Thursday February 2 in a forest in Gard, a week after her disappearance. The 18-year-old girl had not given any sign of life since the evening of January 25, after leaving her grandmother’s home in Grande-Combe.
Not believing in a voluntary departure, the Alès prosecutor’s office had very quickly opened an investigation for worrying disappearance, then requalified for kidnapping and forcible confinement. The police had also launched an appeal for witnesses and significant resources had been deployed to try to find the young woman: helicopters, tracking dogs, dog teams… Without result, until the arrest of a suspect Tuesday, January 31 in Alès, in the Gard.
This man, Mahfoud H., had been heard from the start of the investigation by the gendarmes, who then questioned him as a witness. Coming out, he was still in the sights of the police, explains BFMTV, who then favored the trail of a kidnapping, perhaps for a financial motive. During the first hours of his police custody, the thirties had denied any involvement in the disappearance of the young woman, before finally admitting Wednesday evening to having killed her. It was he who led the investigators to the location of Sihem’s body.
The main suspect already knew the young woman, who is the cousin of his ex-partner. During a press conference, the public prosecutor of Nîmes gave more explanations on his gesture, declaring that he admitted “to having killed the young woman within the framework of an argument linked to their romantic relationship, even though they had met the night of the facts in complete privacy”. That evening, he reportedly put his hand over Sihem’s mouth to silence her, choking her. In the neighborhood, no one heard screaming.
Mahfoud H. was already unfavorably known to the police, with a criminal record comprising 13 mentions between 2001 and 2015, in particular for aggravated theft. As BFMTV explains, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2015 for organized gang robberies, facts he has always denied. According to the news channel, a psychological expertise conducted at that time described him as having “a mild intellectual disability and cognitive disorders but without alienating mental pathology”. His personality was also described as “narcissistic, prideful, stubborn and impulsive”.
Since the announcement of his confession and his indictment, tongues have been loosened in Sihem’s entourage and the very dark profile of the suspect begins to take shape…
Mahfoud H mentioned to the investigators a romantic relationship with the victim but, with Le Figaro, a friend of Sihem denies, explaining: “For Sihem, it was just the husband of his cousin. That they are in the process of divorcing does not changed nothing, since they wanted to get back together. But, since they had robbed the Foir’fouille together, they were not allowed to get in touch”.
In reality, the 18-year-old high school student would have mainly played the intermediary between her cousin and her husband, transmitting messages to one and the other, also keeping their children. “Mahfoud was a patch that no one wanted and that everyone mistrusted”, explains a cousin of Sihem to the daily newspaper, but this was not the case for the latter: “She told us that she found him generous then that he, I think, was manipulating her. But what is certain is that she was not in love. On the contrary, she was trying to fix the affairs of this divorced couple. He, on the other hand, was probably in love with her. He had been hanging around her for a long time. And, unfortunately for her, things got out of hand”.
The personality of Mahfoud H. is at the heart of the investigation. In the entourage of Sihem and in his village some do not hesitate to describe him as “crazy” who would have “the eyes of the devil”.
Questioned by Le Figaro, residents of the village and its surroundings described him as a “not frequentable” man, who would be “in dirty stories”. “Everyone knows he’s crazy. When you see him, you say to yourself ‘he’s going to kill someone one day, he has to’. It shows. He has the eyes of the devil”, explains a acquaintance with the daily newspaper, while a friend of Sihem asserts that “a beautiful woman like Sihem could not fall in love with such a guy”. “He spent half his life in prison, he did nothing, he had debts everywhere. But he had nice cars, because he was in traffic,” she adds.
Love rivalry? Villainous mobile? Many questions still remain unanswered, as the investigation will focus on the connection between the victim and the suspect. The young woman’s laptop, which could provide information on their relationship, is still not found.