IS claims Nice killer driver was its ‘soldier’
NICE, FRANCE—The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility on Saturday for an attack in which a Tunisian drove a truck through a crowd in Nice, killing 84, prompting hard questions in France over security failures.
A statement via the IS Amaq news service said one of its “soldiers” carried out the attack on Thursday night “in response to calls to target nations of coalition states that are fighting (IS).”
President Francois Hollande called the Nice attack “undeniably terrorist in nature” and extended a state of emergency imposed after the Nov. 13, 2015, assault on Paris nightspots that claimed 130 lives.
But in a news conference on Friday, hours after the attack in which 84 people were killed and 202 were wounded, prosecutors said they had found no links to the IS extremist group.
Records showed that the 19-ton truck that was rammed through the seaside crowd in Nice was rented in the outskirts of the city on July 11 and was overdue on the night of the attack.
The man responsible for turning a night of celebration into one of carnage in the seaside city of Nice was a petty criminal who hadn’t been on the radar of French intelligence services before the attack.
As authorities in France frantically searched for clues that might indicate a network of supporters of the kind that emerged after the Paris attacks last November, what is known so far about Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel suggests a troubled, angry loner who never responded to neighbors’ greetings, suffered from depression and had little interest in Islam.
The 31-year-old was born in Msaken, a town in Tunisia, but moved to France years ago and was living in the country legally, working as a delivery driver.
Antiterrorism prosecutor Francois Molins said the suspect was “completely unknown” to the intelligence services but that the assault was “exactly in line with” calls from jihadist groups to kill.
For several years, extremist groups such as IS and al-Qaida have exhorted followers to strike “infidels”—singling out France on several occasions—using whatever means they had at hand.
In September 2014, IS spokesperson Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, suggested that supporters “run (infidels) over with your car.”
While some attacks on the west—such as the November 2015 assault in Paris and the March bombings in Brussels—are carried out by jihadists who have been to the center of IS operations in Iraq and Syria, others have been led by so-called “lone-wolf” attackers.
Inspired from afar by Islamist propaganda, such attackers are a massive headache for intelligence services.
No religion, too
Bouhlel’s father said he had suffered from depression and a nervous breakdown but had “no links” to religion.
Neighbors described the attacker as a loner who never responded to their greetings. He and his wife had three children, but she had demanded a divorce after a “violent argument,” one neighbor said.
Photographs after the carnage showed the truck with its front badly damaged and riddled with bullet holes. Reports from AP, AFP