French prosecutors say the Nice, France truck attacker, Mohamed Bouhlel, had accomplices who are facing terrorism-related charges. According to The New York Times, prosecutors announced that they’ve identified three men whom they believe were in repeated contact with Bouhlel.
The men were identified only as: “Ramzi A., 21, a native of Nice and a dual French-Tunisian citizen; Chokri C., 37, a Tunisian born in Sousse, Tunisia; and Mohamed Oualid G., 40, a dual French-Tunisian citizen born in La Marsa, Tunisia.” Last names were not given.
According to The Times: “Mohamed Oualid G. and Mr. Lahouaiej Bouhlel called each other 1,278 times over the last year.” In addition two other suspects were arrested, with one of them accused of providing Bouhlel a pistol, AFP says.
“Five suspects currently in custody are facing preliminary terrorism charges for their alleged roles in helping driver Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, in a judicial inquiry opened Thursday,” reported USA Today.
ISIS has previously called Bouhlel a “soldier” and claimed responsibility for the attack, although that claim has not been proven.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Mohamed Oualid G. Filmed the Crime Scene & Praised The Charlie Hebdo Attack, Reports Say
Agence France Presse said one of the accomplices had “filmed the crime scene” the day after the attack “as it crawled with police and journalists.” UK Daily Mail says that the French prosecutor “said that one of the suspects, a Tunisian named Mohamed Oualid G, had filmed the scene of the crime the day after the carnage, as it crawled with paramedics and journalists. ”
The New York Times said that prosecutors say Mohamed Oualid G. had sent Bouhlel a text message praising the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine over a satirical cartoon. NPR said only Ramzi has a criminal record, and it was for six crimes “including theft, violence and drug use.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Charlie Hebdo text sent by Mohamed Oualid G. said, “I’m not Charlie; I’m happy. They have brought in the soldiers of Allah to finish the job,” according to prosecutors.
The terrorist attack killed 84 people and injured more than 300. Graphic scenes from the attack were captured on video and in cell phone photos. Bouhlel, described as a depressed loner undergoing marital and financial problems, had rammed a large truck through a crowd of people watching fireworks at the Bastille Day celebration in Nice.
Three Americans died in the attack, including a college student and a father and son from the Austin, Texas area.
2. The Terrorist Attack Had Been Planned For Months & There Were Many Contacts Between the Suspects & Bouhlel, Prosecutors Say
AFP said French prosecutors think the attack had been planned for months. According to CBS News, prosecutor Francois Molins said “Bouhlel’s phone showed searches and photos that indicated he had been studying an attack since 2015.” AFP also said that “Pictures of Oualid apparently taken in the truck used in the attack were also found on Bouhlel’s phone.”
NPR says that, according to French prosecutors, “there were more than 2,000 calls between ‘Mohamed Oualid G.’ and Bouhlel this year, and 150 ‘contacts’ between ‘Chokri C.’ and Bouhlel during 2015-2016.”
France 24 reported that investigations of Bouhlel’s phone records and computer turned up the links with the “detained people, including plans to acquire the truck.” According to Daily Mail, “On April 4, another Tunisian, Chokri C, 37, had sent Bouhlel a Facebook message reading: ‘Load the truck with 2,000 tonnes of iron… release the brakes my friend and I will watch’.”
3. Bouhlel’s Wife Was Detained in The Attack But Released
Bouhlel’s estranged wife was detained previously in the attack. She had kicked Bouhlel out after a violent argument, media reports said. CNN quoted the wife’s attorney as confirming Bouhlel’s estranged wife was “later released without charges.”
4. Five People, Including One Woman, Are Suspected of Helping Bouhlel, Prosecutors Say
The suspected accomplices are four men and a woman and were “involved in the preparation” of the attack, said AFP. A bag of ammunition and a Kalashnikov rifle were found in the home of one of the five suspects, said UK Daily Mail. AFP says the suspect named Ramzi was born in Nice, and “he received two text messages from Bouhlel minutes before the carnage began. In one of the messages, the killer thanks him for a pistol he allegedly gave him the previous night, and mentions five other weapons.”
Police found a Kalashnikov and a bag of ammunition as they searched a cellar of one of Ramzi A.’s associates on Wednesday, but what the weapon was intended for was unclear. One of the two Albanian suspects is accused of providing the pistol to Bouhlel, said UK Telegraph.
NPR said the other two suspects are “an Albanian, no criminal record showing any convictions” and “a French-Albanian, no prior convictions.”
5. The Suspects Are Facing Terrorism-Related Charges & Bouhlel May Have Sent Accomplices Text Messages Also
According to AFP, “The five suspects will be presented to anti-terrorism judges” on July 21, and prosecutors are seeking of “conspiracy to commit terrorism, among other crimes.”
The Toronto Sun reports that “Bouhlel sent text messages to people who may have been accomplices” including a person taken into custody right after the attack. “The official wouldn’t comment on the content of the text messages or confirm reports that they included a request for more weapons,” said the Toronto Sun, adding that two people “are suspected of helping Bouhlel obtain the pistol found in the truck.”
CNN said one suspect, 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.'” AFP says the suspect known as Chokri was placed in the truck with Boulel by video surveillance “prior to the attack” and his fingerprints were on its door.