According to the agreement, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel did not return the truck with freezer boxes of more than 20 tons to Via Location. He left it parked on the outskirts of Nice, France, and arrived the next day. His cargo space was empty, he only put a bike in it. He hid a machine gun and other weapons in the cabin.
Bouhlel’s truck started at half past nine in the evening and headed for the city center. In the pedestrian zone, we celebrated the national holiday, the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. The promenade was full of people, as well as restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlours. Among them are many foreigners from all over the world.
Canadian tourist Ange Eliassi remembers taking pictures at a quarter past eleven when he felt the earth shake. He looked back and saw a white truck speeding past the police station, heading straight for the seafront promenade. “It looked like its brakes had failed,” said the Canadian.
Not only did Bouhlel not try to brake, but he kept his foot on the accelerator. He deliberately clashed with groups of people. He caught up with those who couldn’t escape and was left in shock. At the end of a horrible trip, he stopped in front of the famous luxury hotel Negresco, where he shot police with machine guns. They fired back and one of them hit Bouhlela in the head. A Tunisian died instantly.
However, 84 people died and over 400 were injured on the promenade, and two more people later died in hospital. By the following Saturday morning, the French and Europeans – many on vacation – woke up with terrible news from the station. One of the terrorism-related nightmares has been confirmed: the assailant used a truck as a weapon.
A lonely alcoholic
The situation in Europe at the time was tense and critical. In November 2015, terrorists who joined the Islamic State organization murdered 130 people in a coordinated suicide attack in Paris, followed in March by a bloodbath at the airport and metro station in Brussels. Nice was next.
As in other terrorist attacks, investigators and counterintelligence agents had to look into the terrorist’s past for a desire to kill as many civilians as possible. Although the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the massacre and called Bouhlela its soldier, the investigation showed that the 31-year-old Tunisian was not in contact with the group and that no one was leading him.
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. | Photo: Archive
It even turned out that in the past he was not a religious radical and did not profess a jihadist ideology that celebrates and calls for “killing unbelievers”. Mohamed Lahouaie Bouhlel was a lonely alcoholic and violent drug addict who separated his family.
He was also driven by frustration with his own life and something like hatred for the society he lives in. He looked more like Czech Olga Hepnarová than a jihadist, who murdered eight people at a Prague tram stop in 1972. She cited societal hatred as the motive.
Police found that although Bouhlel had visited websites related to jihad or Islamic State, it was not an intense search. He had never been to mosques before, but only started in April, three months before the assassination. His relatives also testified that he had no interest in religion in the past.
He was allowed to live in France by a Tunisian of origin because he married a Tunisian who already had French nationality. They had three children, but the alcoholic Bouhlel often committed domestic violence. His wife’s patience ran out as he craved in his daughter’s bed. The court forbade him from approaching the woman and he moved to another location in Nice. He has ceased to maintain contact with relatives in Tunisia.
But the massacre on the promenade was not a sudden impulsive act. Bouhlel took photos of the location for several months, preparing for the attack for several months. He wanted to borrow money from a bank to rent a truck, but he couldn’t, so he sold his car. He paid 1,600 euros (about 41,000 crowns) for the rental of a truck and security cameras caught him crossing the same route twice a week before the act. A few hours before the attack, he took photos in different areas of Nice, but left no message or video report on the Islamic State.
Unfortunately, Bouhlel’s act inspired the murder of other Tunisians. Before Christmas Day 2016, Anis Amri entered the Christmas market in Berlin with a stolen truck. He killed twelve people, including a Czech. In this case, the link to the jihadists was clear: Amri made a video saying he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State.
A Tactically Rising Enemy
Last October, terror returned to Nice. Brahim Aouissaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian, killed three people with a knife in a church not far from the promenade. The police arrested him, he had on him two cell phones, a knife and a Koran.
According to former Czech ambassador to France Petr Janyška, radical Islam is gaining followers in the country from a fraction of the younger generation, whose parents and grandparents were once from Arab-Muslim countries. Mainly in men, in women to a much lesser extent.
“Most of them live in a fragile social situation, in many families often without a father, they don’t have much education, they live in the suburbs of big cities. They have a sign of unemployment that France has since years.” more income than if they went to work. And Islamism offers them the kind of identity they often seek,” he told Aktuálně.cz last year in an interview about the causes of Islamist violence in France.
Three years ago, French investigative journalist Matthieu Suc published a book called The Spies of Terror, in which he analyzes the fight against terrorism and Islamism in France, including the events in Nice.
According to him, not only France but also other European countries underestimated the jihadist threat, but after several major attacks they learned about it. Counterintelligence began to cooperate more with each other and improved its methods. For example, the French intelligence service DGSI was given more personnel and powers. Europe has also intensified its fight against Islamist propaganda on the Internet and social networks.
“Above all, the French intelligence services have understood that there is no primitive restriction against them, but an enemy who is tactically at the top,” explains the journalist.
Video: A terrorist came to the Nice promenade and pressed the accelerator
At least 84 people died in the attack on the French city of Nice, where a truck slammed into a crowd celebrating a public holiday. | Video: Reuters