Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel – a delivery driver and petty criminal believed to be French/Tunisian – drove a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, on July 14, killing at least 84 people and injuring many more, including children, Agence France-Presse and other media outlets said. The French interior minister says it’s believed Bouhlel was “radicalized very rapidly.”
A French prosecutor said on July 21 that authorities had arrested 5 other people – four men and a woman – for helping Bouhlel with the attack. CNN said one of the suspects, who will now face terrorism-related charges, “allegedly sent Bouhlel a Facebook message saying, ‘Load the truck with tons of iron and cut the brakes. I’ll look brother.'”
Bouhlel – whom the UK Daily Mail said pretended he was selling ice cream to gain access to the promenade – was named by multiple media outlets on July 15 after the local Nice-Matin newspaper identified him as the Bastille Day terrorist, citing sources. He was described by those who knew him as depressed, not very religious, and struggling with marital and financial problems.
French authorities say they’ve found Bouhlel’s phone number in an investigation into associates of jihadi Omar Diaby, who once lived in Nice, faked his own death, and recorded YouTube videos; ISIS is now calling Bouhlel its “soldier,” although it’s possible Bouhlel was just loosely influenced by the terrorist group, much like Omar Mateen in Florida, CNN said. UK Telegraph said authorities are still studying whether the Diaby link was a coincidence due to the neighborhood where Bouhlel lived, as he had only recently started going to the mosque and could also have been trying to commit suicide. Read more about him here.
“There were dead bodies everywhere,” a witness told ITV, a British television network. One San Diego woman who was there called it a “pathway of bodies.” A Twitter hashtag #RechercheNice was created where frantic people posted photos of missing loved ones, seeking information about them. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, people posted graphic photos and videos to social media sites (warning: disturbing content).
At least two Americans died. Victims’ names were slowly released, including Sean and Brodie Copeland, a father and son from Austin, Texas, who died while they were on a family vacation to France and other European countries. Brodie, just 11, was a youth baseball player and his father worked for a software company; the family had sent a friend a photo of the beach earlier that day. Three California university students were also injured and one was missing.
The local newspaper, Nice-Matin, reported “that the man driving the truck was a 31-year-old Nice resident of Tunisian origin,” UK Telegraph said. “Some reports said he held dual French-Tunisian citizenship. The truck driver was said to have shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ — God is greatest — before being shot dead by police.” UK Telegraph said the terrorist “was known to French police for common law crimes, according to police sources, but not to the intelligence services.” France declared three days of mourning in response to the attack.
Although early reports said an additional 100 people were injured, BBC says about 50 people were injured, 20 of them critically. The newspaper in Nice, France confirmed that an identity card found in the truck led to the terrorist’s identity, although the gunman’s name wasn’t released until early Friday morning, CNN said; that identity card belongs to the French-Tunisian man, Bouhlel, said SBS media.
The death toll increased when the gunman may have alighted from the truck and started shooting (AFP says with a pistol), leaving behind a scene captured in graphic and heartbreaking eyewitness photos and videos on social media. The French president said the victims included several children. He said the driver was shot dead, and that authorities were looking to see if there are accomplices.
The photos and videos posted on social media show bodies lying in the street and captured scenes of panic after the truck rammed into people for 1.2 miles (warning: very graphic). Damien Allemand, a Nice-Matin reporter who saw the attack, said “the assailant was trying to maximize the number of casualties by moving the truck erratically,” according to RT.
“An enormous white truck came along at a crazy speed, turning the wheel to mow down the maximum number of people,” he wrote, saying bodies were “flying like bowling pins along its route.”
“France has been struck on the day of her national holiday,” on a day that is the symbol of “liberty,” said President Francois Hollande. “France as a whole is under the threat of Islamist terrorism, and so under these circumstances we have to demonstrate absolute vigilance and show determination that is unfailing.”
Hollande said 77 people had died, although Reuters and other media also said there might be up to 80. However, by early Friday, the number rose to 84, AFP said.
CNN reported that the occupant of the truck exchanged gunfire with police. British media reported at one point that there may be two terrorists, however many other accounts quote French officials as saying there was one gunman. As the chaos settled into sorrow, news accounts seemed to agree that there was probably one gunman, although French president Hollande said authorities were investigating whether the man had accomplices.
UK Express cited French TV channel iTele, saying that the gunman who emerged from the truck had been “holed up in a nice restaurant downtown” but has been “neutralized” (killed) by police. However, UK Daily Mail reported that the gunman was shot by a police marksman behind the wheel of the truck.
The New York Times reported that a Muslim woman was one of the first victims, although victims’ identities have not all been released:
For several hours, authorities were trying to determine if the identity card matched the terrorist who was killed, according to SBS media and other media accounts. Although initial reports were that the terrorist had a cache of weapons in the large box truck, UK Telegraph now says an inactive grenade and fake rifles were inside.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Tunisia, where the terrorist was born (although he had a French residency card), is a leading source of ISIS recruits. However, it’s not yet known whether Bouhlel had any ISIS affiliation.
Bouhlel drove the truck into the crowd at the Promenade des Anglais, witnesses said. The former mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, who is now a regional official, said there “appeared to be dozens of deaths,” said NBC News. Watch:
In French, Estrosi Tweeted, according to NBC: “Dear Nice, the driver of a truck appears to have made dozens of deaths. Stay for the moment to your home. More info to come.” ITV reported that French officials called it a terrorist attack and, at one point, said that “there are unconfirmed reports that there are gunmen on the loose in the city.” However, those reports did not materialize and may have been part of the confusion of the scene as panicked people ran from the carnage.
“All hell has broken loose in Nice,” a BBC reporter said. The world mourned:
Sebastien Humbert, a police official, told ITV.com, “A truck rammed into the crowd over a long distance, which explains this extremely heavy toll.” A man then emerged from the truck and started shooting, said ITV. Once of the most disturbing videos shows the aftermath of the attack (again, warning: extremely disturbing video):
French television reported that the gunman had been in the truck and ran on foot to a nearby restaurant called Le Buffalo, and an officer then shot him, UK Express said. CNN reported that people in the restaurant rushed outside with white tablecloths to cover the dead and that the driver had accelerated the truck. However, cell phone video shows police surrounding the truck:
There was no immediate identification of the people or groups behind the attack, but ISIS created a hashtag applauding the attack that it was encouraging people to use, according to Site Intel Group, which monitors jihadists.
Meanwhile, there was panic in Paris after thick black smoke was seen billowing out of the Eiffel Tower at the same time as the Nice attack, although authorities later said it was just fireworks from Bastille Day there:
Reports are still unfolding, but ISIS is already posting photographs of the attack.
Unconfirmed reports said ISIS supporters on the Internet were “celebrating” the Bastille Day terrorist attack as “retaliation for the death of Abu Omar al-Shishani—the terror group’s so-called ‘minister of war.'” Al-Shishani was reportedly killed a few days ago by coalition forces in Iraq.
Bastille Day is France’s national holiday, honoring the storming of the Bastille prison in the 1789 French Revolution. The French president noted it’s a day that France celebrates “liberty.” France is still recovering from the Paris terrorist attacks last fall in which 130 died.
Here are photos from the attack that have been posted on social media (warning some are graphic):
Some people were also posting videos of the attack on social media:
You can see more videos of the attack here.
Read more about ISIS in Spanish at AhoraMismo.com: