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French police detain several suspects over Nice terrorist attack

Anne-Christine Poujoulat, AFP|French police officers search a truck in a street of Nice on July 15, 2016, near the building where the man who drove a truck into a crowd watching a fireworks display the day before reportedly lived.

French police detained three more people in Nice Sunday in connection with the probe into the Bastille day attack that killed at least 84 people when a truck rammed into crowds in the Riviera city, police sources said.

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Two men and a woman were taken in for questioning, according to an official with the Paris prosecutor’s office, which oversees national terrorism investigations, but the official provided no details on their identities.

The latest arrests brought the number of those held in connection with the attack to seven, according to AFP. One person was later released on Monday, according to a judicial source.

The driver Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s estranged wife, who had also been taken in for questioning after the attack, was released over the weekend.

“No charges have been brought against her,” a source close to the investigation said.

Investigators continue to hunt for possible accomplices to the 31-year-old truck driver Bouhlel, a Tunisian who had lived in Nice for years. He was killed by police after ramming his truck through crowds on Nice’s famed Promenade des Anglais seafront after a holiday fireworks display on Thursday night.

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A ‘real’ member of terrorist group?

The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for the attack, referring to Bouhlel a “soldier”, but it’s unclear whether the suspect had concrete links to the group. The IS group statement said he was following their calls to target citizens of countries fighting the extremists.

"He carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of states that are part of the coalition fighting Islamic State," the group said through the Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the militant Islamists, on its Telegram account.

French officials did not dispute the claim, but they have not yet found concrete evidence of a connection. Bouhlel was known to the police for petty crimes but was not on a watch list of suspected militants.

“These links for now have not been established by the investigation,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told France’s RTL radio on Monday.

Edwin Bakker, Professor at the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, said the group’s claim did not necessarily point to any formal link.

Neighbours described the attacker as volatile, prone to drinking and womanising, and in the process of getting a divorce. His father, in Tunisia, said his son did not pray or fast for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

Speaking from his home town in Tunisia, Bouhlel’s sister told Reuters he had been having psychological problems when he left for France in 2005.

But he may have had a swift, recent change toward a more extremist worldview. On Saturday, Cazeneuve told reporters that “it seems he was radicalised very quickly”.

A city in mourning

Nice’s Promenade des Anglais is gradually reopening and becoming a shrine to the dead, with memorials set up on the westbound lane of the road in spots where victims were felled, some still identifiable by bloodstains. Joggers, bikers and sunbathers populated the pedestrian walkway along the glistening Mediterranean Sea, where well-wishers placed flowers, French flags, stuffed animals and candles.

The site is also becoming a platform for anger at the attacker. Pained and outraged epitaphs are now written in blue maker on stones placed where police shot him dead.

With scores still hospitalised, including many children, France’s health minister visited Nice on Sunday.

There is mounting fury in the city as many families state that there was no information about missing loved ones after the attack. People are also angry at the police for not preventing the deadly assault despite France being under a state of emergency.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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