ISIS says one of its ‘soldiers’ carried out attack in Nice
An ISIS “soldier” carried out the attack in Nice, France, this week that left 84 people dead, the group said in a statement via its media group.
The Amaq Agency statement, which was posted by ISIS supporters, said a security source told the agency that “the person who carried out the run over in Nice, France, is one of the Islamic State soldiers and carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition which is fighting the Islamic State.”
French authorities named Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, as the man who drove a 20-ton truck through crowds who’d just watched fireworks for Bastille Day celebrations on the Mediterranean beachfront Thursday, killing dozens and injuring more than 200 people.
France has not indicated whether the attack stemmed from a sympathizer taking direction from ISIS or an ISIS member sent to attack.
Authorities did not release information about a motive. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the investigation has so far not uncovered any evidence of jihadism. But French prosecutor François Molins said the attack fits with calls that “terrorist organizations regularly give out on their videos and elsewhere.”
As the investigation continued, French authorities were questioning five people Saturday. Among them was Bouhlel’s ex-wife, who was taken into custody Friday, the anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said. The other four are men.
Bouhlel, a resident of Nice, was born in Tunisia but had a permit to live and work in France.
French President François Hollande, addressing his country following its third major terrorist attack in 18 months, described the assault as an “unspeakable act.”
“We have an enemy who is going to continue to strike all the people, all the countries who have freedom as a fundamental value,” Hollande said.
Bouhlel was shot to death by police after he barreled down the crowded Promenade des Anglais for almost a mile, crushing and hitting people who had gathered to watch the Bastille Day fireworks. He was identified by fingerprints after his identification card was found in the truck, authorities said.
He was known to police because of allegations of threats, violence and thefts over the past six years, and he was given a suspended six-month prison sentence this year after being convicted of violence with a weapon, authorities said.
Bouhlel’s father, who lives in Tunisia, said his son showed signs of mental health issues — having had multiple nervous breakdowns and volatile behavior, said CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.
Despite his criminal record, Bouhlel was not on the radar for any kind of terror threat. The man was “entirely unknown by the intelligence services, whether nationally or locally,” Molins said.
“He had never been the subject of any kind of file or indication of radicalization.”
‘There are dead everywhere’
The claim from ISIS came as harrowing new details emerged about Thursday night’s tragedy. One young victim, Kimberley Torres, described how someone tried to throw her out of the way of the truck — but she was still hit by it.
“I tried to roll myself into a ball, so the people wouldn’t crush me, but I was still hit in the stomach and leg,” she said.
The 16-year-old, who lives in Nice and is studying for an international baccalaureate, is now recovering from her injuries at the Fondation Lenval.
Her mother, Edvige, said she would take her daughter to a psychologist when her physical wounds had healed. She said her daughter called her in tears because she had been separated from her best friend, whom Kimberley was later reunited with and who was unharmed.
“The most awful thing for her, amidst all this is … she was telling me: ‘Mum, there are dead everywhere, severed heads, severed people, there’s blood everywhere, mother, come.'”
Edvige Torres said she immediately left her home near the beachfront to find her daughter, whom she then took straight to hospital.
“I’ve tried to keep my head until now, but I can’t any more,” she said.
‘Bodies flying in the air’
Another young student said he saw the whole attack from the balcony of his friends’ flat.
Andres Farfan, a 21-year-old from Peru, was celebrating finishing his university degree in Nice when he heard screams coming from the beachfront.
He looked down and saw the truck speeding on the footpath of the road.
“It was going pretty fast, I guess 60 or 70 kph, and people were screaming and trying to avoid it, and some jumped to the beach side, and it is not small sized, it’s a big jump,” Faran said.
Most people on the boulevard struggled to avoid the truck as it approached.
“At that point I thought that these people wouldn’t make it, because it was really fast and they were all together like a pack,” he said. “I couldn’t watch it. I closed my eyes, and I went inside the apartment. Some of my friends did the opposite — they went outside, when people started screaming, they went and saw this; then they started screaming and crying immediately. I can’t imagine what they have seen.
“They say they saw bodies flying in the air when the truck hit them.”
Farfan braced himself to go out on the balcony to see the aftermath. “We saw the first scenes of the bodies, the uncovered bodies, the dead. I saw a bunch of six, seven bodies — they were stuck to the floor with blood around them. It was horrible to watch.”
Before the attack
Bouhlel began the attack at about 10:45 p.m., authorities said. At one point, he fired a gun several times at three police officers close to a hotel, the prosecutor said.
The truck was rented on Monday and was supposed to have been returned Wednesday, Molins said, without saying who rented it. Surveillance video shows that about two hours before the attack Thursday, Bouhlel rode a bicycle to pick up the truck east of the city, the prosecutor said.
After Bouhlel was shot, police found a handgun and some ammunition in the truck’s cab, as well as a replica handgun, two replica assault rifles, a cell phone and various documents, Molins said. In the trailer was the bicycle and some empty pallets.
Hollande declared a national mourning period from Saturday to Monday.
France was just preparing to lift its state of emergency, which was put into place in the wake of the November terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, the deadliest attack in France’s history.
Nice is just the latest city to be hit by a terror attack. Istanbul, Orlando, Baghdad, Brussels and Dhaka in Bangladesh are among other targets hit in recent months.
‘Big step back’
Cruickshank said “no country in the Western world is threatened more by jihadis and terrorism than France.”
“This is a big step back here. They are absolutely exhausted after a year and a half of intense efforts to try and protect this country,” Cruickshank said.
“The painful reality here is that if it wasn’t going to be this promenade, it would have been any other promenade.”
France had put intense security in place for Euro 2016, the international soccer tournament that just ended. No major attacks occurred during the event.