There was no way that a story involving the targeted attack of a high-profile women’s soccer player by masked men who beat her about the legs with a metal pole was going to be anything other than completely insane. And yet the more we learn about the assault on PSG midfielder Kheira Hamraoui, the stranger and crazier the story grows.
Just about the only things we (think we?) know for sure are the facts of the attack itself. On Nov. 4, PSG’s players held a camaraderie-building dinner out on the town. Once the dinner was over, Aminata Diallo drove Hamraoui and another fellow teammate, Sakina Karchaoui, home. After dropping off Karchaoui, Diallo’s car was stopped by two masked men who pulled the two women out from their seats. Diallo was constrained by one man while the other proceeded to strike Hamraoui with a metal pole, apparently focusing his blows on Hamraoui’s legs. After a while, the assailants stopped and fled. Hamraoui was taken to the hospital, where doctors found her legs bruised and cut but, luckily, not broken.
News of the attack only came out once local authorities arrested Diallo as a suspect. The theory was that Diallo, who is effectively Hamraoui’s backup both for PSG and the French national team, orchestrated the attack to remove her rival from competition. Indeed, after a recent, unrelated injury of Hamraoui’s that caused her to miss out on a call-up with the national team, Diallo was brought into the France fold in her place. Diallo also was a starter for the two matches immediately following the attack. The mind couldn’t help but notice echos of the Nancy Kerrigan–Tonya Harding incident.
The purported evidence of Diallo’s involvement came from a couple sources, which can be found in this Daily Mail roundup article: first, the fact that Diallo apparently took a circuitous route home from the dinner, dropping off Karchaoui first even though Hamraoui’s place was closer, and because Diallo was driving noticeably slowly when the assailants ran up to the car; the other big piece was a number of phone calls made between Diallo and a childhood friend of hers. During the investigation, police heard from several PSG players who reported that they’d recently received calls and texts from a man who claimed that an affair he’d had with Hamraoui back when she was at Barcelona had ruined his life, and so he was out for revenge. The investigators suspected that Diallo’s childhood friend, who has a long rap sheet and is currently in custody for an unrelated offense, was the man who made those calls as cover for Diallo’s true motivations in having Hamraoui attacked.
However, after being held in custody for 36 hours, police released Diallo. No charges have been filed against her or her childhood friend, who said he’d been calling Diallo only because he’d heard the news and was worried about her. And, it appears, the authorities have started looking elsewhere for the culprits.
(Predictably, this has been really tough on the rest of the PSG squad. The locker room was reportedly stunned by the original allegations and is currently split on whether Diallo should be welcomed back with open arms immediately or if that should wait until her full exoneration. PSG tried to postpone its match against Lyon on Sunday in light of all this, but the French soccer federation refused. Lyon won, 6–1.)
It’s important to note that Diallo’s release and the lack of criminal charges do not by themselves exonerate Diallo from involvement in the attack, nor do they preclude charges being brought later. However, it’s also important to note that Diallo has always maintained her innocence, has fully cooperated with the police, and reportedly did not even ask for legal representation when arrested and questioned. Diallo and Hamraoui are neighbors and are reportedly long-standing, genuinely close friends; they have even vacationed together in the past. In a statement blasting the police’s handling of the situation, Diallo’s lawyer had this to say:
I am very happy that, definitely I believe, my client has been exonerated. She has been released from an arrest that was, in my opinion, defamatory, scandalous, and incoherent. Defamatory because she and all her family have effectively been publicly disgraced. Scandalous because she left without any charge being brought against her, and incoherent because it seems that the investigation is being refined, that other avenues are being studied.
My client is very affected psychologically by this media surge. Over 6,000 articles appeared in national and international media. […] She is determined to shed light and to proclaim her innocence on the judicial level.Mourad Battikh, Diallo’s lawyer, from L’Équipe
So, if at the very least the authorities are currently looking into leads other than Diallo, then who could’ve been behind this? It turns out, the police didn’t even need to leave the sporting world in the search for another person of interest.
The latest news comes from Le Monde, which reported that former France international Eric Abidal will soon be questioned by investigators in relation to the attack, according to a prosecutor on the case. What’s more, according to this report by Spanish paper Marca which quotes French paper L’Équipe, the new theory is that Abidal’s wife may have plotted the attack in revenge for a rumored affair between Abidal and Hamraoui.
There is some circumstantial evidence that could support the theory. Prior to this season, Hamraoui played for Barcelona for three seasons. For two of those seasons, Abidal was the sporting director of Barcelona’s men’s team. During the attack, reports say that one of Hamraoui’s assailants yelled, “So, you like to sleep with married men?” RCM Sport reports that Hamraoui’s cell phone is registered to Abidal, who is married. When investigators asked about the phone, a source told RCM Sport that Hamraoui responded that it was “in her ex’s name.” There are those calls and texts from the anonymous man who claimed to have an affair with Hamraoui in Barcelona. The Marca report about L’Équipe‘s (paywalled) report quotes a source who says that Hamraoui called Abidal the day after the attack and asked him if he thought his wife was capable of orchestrating the plot, and Abidal “answered with a resounding no.”
As you can see, the state of affairs is as clear as mud, and leaves you with more questions than answers. The progression of the case does seem to imply that Diallo wasn’t actually involved as first assumed—though, again, that can’t be fully ruled out just yet. However, what does seem clear is that the police bungled things by arresting Diallo when they didn’t have enough solid evidence to actually tie her to anything, which created the totally foreseeable international media frenzy that may very well prove completely unfounded.
At the moment, the Abidal angle does look more promising than the Diallo one, but that too could go so many different ways. Would Abidal himself have made those calls and texts to the other PSG players, which could imply that he himself set the attack in motion? If not, could it have been someone who knew about the rumored affair and wanted to use it to hurt either Abidal or Hamraoui? For her part, Abidal’s wife has released a statement through her lawyer that she has sought to fast-track a discussion between herself and the authorities so as to put the rumor of her being the attack’s mastermind to rest.
Though it’s certainly feasible that Diallo or one of the Abidals is the true perpetrator, it’s just as easy to see those paths leading to dead ends, at which point who knows what could come next. It’s impossible to have much faith in the French authorities at this point, and even less reason to believe much of what comes out of the famously unreliable European sports media scene.
Hopefully, the French authorities do manage to dredge up some solid intel and can find out what is actually going on soon. If not for our sake, then for that of Hamraoui, who deserves justice for a truly heinous assault. Hamraoui’s attorney appeared on French TV today and explained that his client is “extremely shocked” and “completely devastated.” He displayed some photos of her injuries:
“She is not doing well,” Hamraoui’s attorney said. “She asks herself a lot of questions, she has flashbacks, she thinks about a lot of things. She feels totally unsafe today. She had no enemies. She was happy with her career. She is one of the major figures of women’s soccer in France. She has a family. She wants her status as a woman, as a footballer, and her private life to be respected.”