Attacker in Nice: No known links to terrorism

French prosecutors say Mohamed Bouhlel, the man responsible for the Nice truck attack that killed 84 people, was not religious but had developed a recent interest in Jihadist movements.
French soldiers on patrol in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as the country observed a minute of silence yesterday for the victims of last Thursday's attack in Nice. The attacker, Bouhlel, used a truck to mow down people along Nice's seasi
French soldiers on patrol in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as the country observed a minute of silence yesterday for the victims of last Thursday's attack in Nice. The attacker, Bouhlel, used a truck to mow down people along Nice's seaside promenade, killing 84 and injuring hundreds.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Bouhlel could have been inspired by extremist messages: Minister

NICE • The man who killed 84 people in a rampage along Nice's seaside promenade had no known links to terrorist networks and may have merely been inspired by extremist messages from afar, said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve yesterday.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria called Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, a "soldier" in its pledged assault against daily life in Western Europe and the US.

But Mr Cazeneuve told France's RTL radio it cannot be excluded that an "unbalanced and very violent individual" has been "through a rapid radicalisation, committed to this absolutely despicable crime".

As for his connection with larger terrorist networks in France or elsewhere, Mr Cazeneuve said: "These links for now have not been established by the investigation."

The announcement came at the end of a three-day period of national mourning declared after Bouhlel, a Tunisian living in France, used a rented 19-tonne truck to mow down crowds gathered last Thursday night to celebrate Bastille Day, France's national holiday.

The authorities on Sunday said Bouhlel, described by family and neighbours as a loner who struggled with mental illness, had sent a text message to another suspected accomplice saying: "Bring more weapons." He also visited the scene of the attack days before the carnage and took a selfie at the wheel of the truck.

Later on Sunday, the authorities announced they had detained three additional suspects, including an Albanian man and woman suspected of supplying Bouhlel with weapons before the attack. The man held is believed to be the recipient of that text message.

Seven others were detained earlier. Among them was Bouhlel's former wife, who was released from custody on Sunday morning, local media reported the authorities as saying.

Meanwhile, people yesterday placed flowers, personal messages and candles at makeshift memorials along Nice's storied Promenade des Anglais and, in cities across France, the nation paused at noon for a moment of silence to commemorate the victims.

At least 10 children were among the dead, as well as tourists from countries including Ukraine, Switzerland and Germany. Also, a local Russian association said there were about 10 victims from Russia.

More than 300 people were injured in the attack. Fifty-nine remain hospitalised, and 29 are in intensive care units, Mr Cazeneuve announced. Many people are still desperately waiting for news of their loved ones.

Prosecutors said just 52 victims had been officially identified so far, with painstaking measures being taken to avoid errors of identification seen during the Paris attacks last November.

Back on the promenade in Nice, crowds booed as Prime Minister Manuel Valls arrived yesterday with Ms Marisol Touraine, the Health Minister - a reaction that reflected widespread dissatisfaction with the government's perceived failure to prevent the attack, the third terrorist assault on French soil in 19 months.

At the spot where Bouhlel was fatally shot by police after he had carved a path of terror and carnage, a marker of sorts was erected to him: a pile of rocks that people have been spitting on since Sunday.

France has called up 12,000 police reservists to boost security in the wake of the killings.

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Attacker in Nice: No known links to terrorism'. Print Edition | Subscribe