On Thursday night, a terror attack in Nice, France left 84 dead and 303 injured after a man drove a 19-ton truck two kilometers through a crowd. Thousands had gathered along the Promenade des Anglais, the main street in Nice, to watch fireworks for Bastille day when the tragedy occurred. Isis later claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring that one of it’s “soldiers” had acted on their calls for violence against the Western World.
The driver was identified as 31-year old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who was living in Nice on a French visa. He fired several shots into the crowd before driving a rented refrigerated truck full of firearms and grenades down a road that had been closed as people celebrated France’s independence holiday. The rampage ended when police shot and killed the driver. The death toll continues to rise as 52 of the injured remain in critical condition, and 25 in comas.
Bouhlel had a history of petty crime and was given a suspended six-month prison sentence this year after being convicted of violence with a weapon, according to French prosecutor François Molins. Bouhlel’s father told French newspaper Agence France-Presse that his son showed signs of mental health issues, exhibiting volatile and depressive behavior and incurring multiple nervous breakdowns in his life. However, he “had almost no links to religion,” and “he didn’t pray, he didn’t fast, he drank alcohol, and even used drugs.”
Bouhlel was therefore viewed as a social misfit rather than potential threat. In a public statement, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that he was not on the radar of French intelligence agencies and that he appears to have self-radicalized very quickly.
“This is a new type of attack,” Cazeneuve said. “We are now confronted with individuals that are sensitive to the message of ISIS and are committed to extremely violent actions without necessarily being trained by them.”
The attack went unclaimed until Saturday morning, when the Islamic State issued a statement through its media group, Amaq News Agency, saying that an Isis “soldier” performed the attack in Nice.
“Executor of the deadly operation in Nice, France, was a soldier of the Islamic State,” the announcement read. “He executed the operation in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations, which fight the Islamic State.”
There is no evidence to suggest that Bouhlel got training or orders from Isis, that he was radicalized, or that he had even been exposed to the Islamic State’s propaganda. Authorities are therefore taking Isis’ claims of responsibility with caution, as the group has been known to take credit for radical actions of individuals.
“We cannot deny that it was a terror attack,” French president Francois Hollande said in a national television address. He added that the choice of day, Bastille Day, when France celebrates its post-French Revolution republic, made it undeniable that the rampage was intentional. The holiday is celebrated as a “symbol of liberty,” and that “human rights are denied by fanatics” and their clear targeting of French civilians.
Hollande has declared a national mourning period from Saturday to Monday. Before the attack, France had been preparing to lift the state of emergency that was implemented in the wake of the November terror attacks on a Paris concert hall that left 130 dead. The state of emergency is now being extended for three further months.