The man behind the terror attack in France
Described by his neighbours as a handsome but frightening man, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who killed at least 84 people in the French city of Nice by driving his truck into a crowd late on Thursday, was convicted only once before: for road rage.
Bouhlel ploughed a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the French Riviera, in what President Francois Hollande called a terrorist act by an enemy determined to strike all nations that share France’s values.
While a history of threats, violence and theft had caused him several run-ins with the law previously, Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Nice resident born in Tunisia, was not on a watch list of French intelligence services as a suspected militant.
He was convicted for the first time in March this year, French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said.
“There was an altercation between him and another driver and he hurled a wooden pallet at the man,” Urvoas told reporters.
As it was his first conviction, Bouhlel was given a six-month suspended sentence and had to contact police once a week, which he did, Urvoas added.
He had three children but lived separately from his wife who was taken into police custody on Friday, prosecutor Francois Molins said.
A former neighbour in Bouhlel’s hometown of Msaken, about 120 km (75 miles) south of Tunis, told Reuters he had left for France in 2005, after getting married, and had worked as a driver there.
Tunisian security sources told Reuters Bouhlel had last visited Msaken four years ago. They also said they were not aware of Bouhlel holding radical or Islamist views, saying he had a French residence permit for the past 10 years without obtaining French nationality.
Neighbours in the residential neighbourhood in northern Nice where Bouhlel lived said he had a tense personality and did not mingle with others.
“I would say he was someone who was pleasing to women,” said neighbour Hanan, standing in the lobby of the apartment building where Bouhlel lived.
“But he was frightening. He didn’t have a frightening face, but … a look. He would stare at the children a lot,” he added.
His home town Msaken is about 10 km (six miles) outside the coastal city of Sousse, where a gunman killed 38 people, mostly British holidaymakers, on a beach a year ago.
Many residents of Msaken town have migrated to Nice, where the Tunisian community numbers about 130,000 people.
Relatives and neighbours in Msaken said Bouhlel was sporty and had shown no sign of being radicalised, including when he last returned for the wedding of a sister four years ago.
Bouhlel’s brother Jabeur said he still doubted whether his sibling was the attacker.
“Why would my brother do something like this?” he told Reuters, adding: “We’ve been calling him since yesterday evening but he’s not responding.”
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