UPDATE 3 – Driver in France truck attack identified as local man


By Hajer M’tiri

PARIS (AA) – The attacker who killed at least 84 people, including 10 children and adolescents, in Nice, France was identified as a 31-year-old Tunisian who lived in the city, said the Paris chief prosecutor Friday.

Francois Molins added that 202 people had been injured, of which 52 were in extreme critical condition, including 25 in intensive care.

The Paris chief prosecutor confirmed the attacker’s identity as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian-born delivery driver. He was married with three children and reportedly in the process of a divorce. His wife has been taken into custody for questioning Friday morning.

“He was born on Jan. 3, 1975, in Tunis with residence in Nice,” Molins told a news conference in Nice.

Molins said Bouhlel was known to police for non-terror-related offenses, “threats, violence and petty theft committed between 2010 and 2016”. He was “arrested on the 23rd of March in 2016” and sentenced to six months for a crime and had been convicted of “voluntary violence with a weapon and that was in January 2016”.

“He had never shown any sign of radicalization,” he added.

Molins said investigators were seeking to establish the motives of the attacker and whether he had any accomplices.

French media, quoting neighbors, described Bouhlel as solitary, quiet and non-religious.

Police found his identity documents in the truck that mowed down crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on Thursday night and his identity was confirmed through fingerprints.

Molins said that the attacker rented the 19-ton truck on July 11 in nearby Saint-Laurent-du-Var , and that it “should have been returned on the 13th of July”.

He drove the white refrigerated truck about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) through crowds of revelers who had been watching a fireworks display from the Promenade des Anglais at around 11 p.m. local time (2100GMT).

He fired repeatedly at three policemen when they confronted him near a hotel. Gunshots were exchanged but the truck continued for a further 300 meters, Molins said.

Police “eventually found the driver dead in the passenger seat”, the prosecutor said.

In the cabin, police found an automatic firearm, a charger, bullets, as well as a fake automatic weapon. There were also two fake Kalashnikovs and M16s, a pierced grenade, a mobile telephone, and various documents which are still being examined. We also found a driver’s card and and a card under his name.”

Molins explained that the attacker “arrived [at the parked truck] alone by bike. This bike was then found in the truck. The truck was seen at about 10.30 p.m (2030GMT) in Nice before it went to the Promenade.”

He said police searched the attacker’s house and collected documents and electronic material.

“These materials are of course being investigated,” Molins said, insisting that there has been no claim of responsibility, though the attack was consisted with “calls from terrorist organizations”.

– 3 days of national mourning

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced three days of national mourning from Saturday.

“The goal of terrorists is to instill fear and panic but France is a great country and a great democracy that will not allow itself to be destabilized,” he said in televised remarks from Paris.

He added: “We want to achieve the unity of the nation. The only answer should be that of a united France.”

The prime minister said an extension to the state of emergency that has been in place since November’s attacks in Paris killed 130 would be discussed by the Cabinet and in parliament next week.

Before the Nice attack, it had been due to end on July 26 but is expected to now run for a further three months.

After returning to Paris from Avignon in the south of France, President Francois Hollande held a security meeting at the Elysee Palace.

The Eiffel tower is expected to display colors of the French flag for three nights, starting Friday, in homage to the victims.

– Hollande in Nice

Speaking from Nice, Hollande had earlier indicated that 50 people were “between life and death”.

“Among the victims are French citizens as well as foreigners, who came from all continents. And there are a number of young children who came to watch fireworks with their families, who have been struck down just to satisfy the cruelty of one individual or possibly of a group,” Hollande said.

“We are facing a battle that will be long. Our enemy will continue to strike,” Hollande added. “The whole world is watching us and expressing its solidarity. The world is thinking of us.”

The French leader said those who witnessed the attack will have to live with the psychological trauma.

The world police body, INTERPOL, said a team of its experts has been dispatched to Nice to help identify the victims.

“Incident Response Team being deployed to Nice to provide disaster victim identification assistance,” INTERPOL said on its official twitter account.

Hollande, Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve arrived in Nice Friday to meet security officials. Hollande earlier said the government had called up operational reserves to support gendarme and police forces and assist in controlling borders.

– ‘France clearly target’

“France has been struck on the day of her national holiday — July 14, Bastille Day — the symbol of liberty, because human rights are denied by fanatics and France is clearly their target,” Hollande had said earlier in Paris.

The president said the terrorist nature of the attack “cannot be denied” and declared France was under threat from “Islamist terrorism”. The attack would “strengthen our efforts in Syria and Iraq against those who are attacking us on our very soil,” he added.

Witnesses said the driver, who was killed in the attack, was zigzagging in an attempt to hit people and began shooting randomly after stopping.

Christian Estrosi, president of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, described the attack as “the worst tragedy in the history of Nice”.

– Muslims condemn ‘odious’ attack

Counter-terrorism investigators from Paris took charge of the investigation under Chief Prosecutor Francois Molins.

Flags have been lowered across France and music events planned for Friday and Saturday have been canceled.

The French Muslim Council condemned the attack “with the greatest vigor”.

“France has been hit yet another time by a terrorist attack of the utmost severity,” the council said in a statement, adding that the “odious terrorist act took aim at our country on the very day of its national holiday, a day which celebrates liberty, equality and fraternity”.

The council called for French Muslims to pray Friday for “the memory of the victims of this barbarian attack.”

Following the attack, Italy tightened security along its land border with France, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said. The center of Nice is 22 kilometers (14 miles) from the Italian border.

Germany’s Federal Police said security at airports and on the French border would be increased. German authorities also said Friday that two students and a teacher from a high school in central Berlin were among the victims.

A Russian, a Ukrainian and two Americans are among the dead, officials in their home countries said.