The first picture of the man behind the Nice terrorist attack, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, has been published.
The image, which was taken from French TV reports that said the picture had come from the French government and specifically his passport, shows the face of the man responsible for the cowardly attack that left at least 84 people dead and some 200 injured.
The documents appear to be those that were (convenietly) found alongside other papers in the truck that Lahouaiej Bouhlel used to carry out the attack. The vehicle had been hired from a location outside of Nice, and it may have been picked up on Wednesday, reports said.
As a reminder, Mohamed Lahouaej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian living in France, had rented the 19-ton refrigerated truck that he used to drive along the city’s beach promenade, plowing into celebratory crowds for 2.3 kilometers. Ten children or teenagers were among the dead, he said, adding that the driver had used a 7.65mm automatic pistol to fire on police before they shot him.
“The attack has not been claimed” by any group, Molins said. “But this sort of action is the sort of action advocated by terrorist groups on online media.” The investigation will include determining whether Lahouaej-Bouhlel had links with terrorist organizations, he said.
Over the past few hours more details have emerged about Bouhlel, described by his neighbors as a handsome but frightening man, who according to Reuters was convicted only once before: for road rage.
While a history of threats, violence and theft had brought him to the attention of police, Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Nice resident born in Tunisia, was not French intelligence services’ list of suspected militants. He was convicted for the first time in March this year, for road rage, French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said.
“There was an altercation between him and another driver and he hurled a wooden pallet at the man,” Urvoas told reporters. As it was his first conviction, Bouhlel was given a six-month suspended sentence and had to contact police once a week, which he did, Urvoas added.
He had three children but lived separately from his wife who was taken into police custody on Friday, prosecutor Francois Molins said.
A former neighbor in Bouhlel’s hometown of Msaken, about 120 km (75 miles) south of Tunis, told Reuters he had left for France in 2005, after getting married, and had worked as a driver there.
Tunisian security sources told Reuters Bouhlel had last visited Msaken four years ago. They also said they were not aware of Bouhlel holding radical or Islamist views, saying he had a French residence permit for the past 10 years without obtaining French nationality.
Neighbours in the residential neighborhood in northern Nice where Bouhlel lived said he had a tense personality and did not mingle with others. “I would say he was someone who was pleasing to women,” said neighbour Hanan, standing in the lobby of the apartment building where Bouhlel lived.
“But he was frightening. He didn’t have a frightening face, but … a look. He would stare at the children a lot,” he added.
His home town Msaken is about 10 km (six miles) outside the coastal city of Sousse, where a gunman killed 38 people, mostly British holidaymakers, on a beach a year ago. Many residents of Msaken have migrated to Nice, where there is a large Tunisian community.
Relatives and neighbours in Msaken said Bouhlel was sporty and had shown no sign of being radicalised, including when he last returned for the wedding of a sister four years ago. A nephew of Bouhlel, Ibrahim, said his uncle had called three days ago saying he was preparing a trip back for a family party. Bouhlel’s brother, Jabeur, said he still doubted whether his sibling was the attacker.
“Why would my brother do something like this?” he told Reuters, adding: “We’ve been calling him since yesterday evening but he’s not responding.”