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Paris, France – A new investigation into the death of an 80-year-old Algerian woman after she was hit by a tear gas canister during a “yellow vest” demonstration suggests police directly fired at her window, countering an initial report that had cleared officers of any wrongdoing.
On December 1, 2018, Zineb Redouane was reportedly closing her apartment shutters when she was hit with the tear gas canister, thrown by a policeman into her fourth-floor apartment.
A day later, she died from her injuries in hospital.
The investigation, conducted by the NGO Disclose, used reconstructions from the University of London-based Forensic Architecture and an official report from French ballistics experts to recreate a 3D model of the scene.
According to the report, the tear gas canister would have been travelling at more than 97kmph (60 miles/h) when it hit Redouane.
“You can tell that this is a very justified feeling that she was targeted,” Martyna Marciniak, a researcher with Forensic Architecture who worked on the report, told Al Jazeera.
Marciniak stopped short of confirming that suspicion, but said there was a limited amount of official evidence provided by the French government.
The 73-page ballistics report, published in May, concluded the police officer that threw the tear gas canister did not see Redouane when he fired it, stating he “hit the victim in a completely accidental manner”, and fired at an angle within the legal limit of 30 to 45 degrees.
“We were shocked about the limitation of the statement … there was no mention of any other circumstances that pointed to this shot being irresponsible, dangerous, and unlawful,” Marciniak said.
According to the counter-investigation, even if the fire was within the legal limit, “the presence of several buildings directly in front of the shooting officer should, at the very least, have constituted a red alert”.
A Lyon court, which is now in charge of the case, has yet to rule on any findings from the ballistics report.
The counter-investigation came as Redouane’s daughter, Milfed, has filed a legal complaint against the then-Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, for “concealing evidence”.
Yassine Bouzrou, the family’s lawyer, told Al Jazeera: “The lies of Castaner have had a tremendous influence on the judiciary who refuse to pursue the police officer who killed Madame Redouane.”
In the months following the incident, Castaner repeatedly claimed Redouane’s death was due to a cardiac arrest that had nothing to do with the police.
“I will not let it be said that the police killed Zineb Redouane, because that is false,” Castaner told French radio station France Inter in March 2019.
In a recent defence, Castaner said he was merely referring to an autopsy report ordered by the Marseille public prosecutor Xavier Tarabeaux, which said she had been “victim of a cardiac arrest on the operating table”.
A later second autopsy performed in Algiers concluded: “[Facial] trauma is directly responsible for her death”, thereby linking the cause back to the police.
A separate preliminary investigation carried out by the Inspection Generale de la Police Nationale (IGPN), France’s official police watchdog, also cleared the police of any wrongdoing.
In an interview with Mediapart last year, Milfet Redouane said she was on the phone with her mother when she was hit with the tear gas canister.
“Then the phone dropped,” she told Mediapart. “I heard her scream … then she picked up the phone and said, ‘He targeted me, the police targeted me! I made eye contact with two policemen – one fired at me. Then they got in their car and left.”
Milfet said perhaps the police thought her mother was filming them when they threw the grenade.
Bouzrou, meanwhile, said he was shocked that prosecutors were not doing more to hold any officers accountable in the case.
“I’ve never seen an investigation like this,” he told Al Jazeera, adding he could not help but “wonder if the case would be different if the victim wasn’t an 80-year-old Algerian woman.”