Nice truck killer had support, accomplices for carefully planned attack
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French truck killer Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel received logistical support preparing for his deadly Bastille Day attack in Nice from five suspects who are now in custody, Paris prosecutor François Molins revealed Thursday.
"The investigation underway since the night of July 14 has progressed and not only confirmed the murderous premeditated nature of Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel's act, but has also established that he benefitted from support and accomplices," Molins told a news conference in Paris Thursday.
Four men and a woman were involved in planning the premeditated attack, which killed 84 people and injured more than 300 others.
The five suspects included French, Tunisian and Albanian nationals, said Molins.
Investigations of Bouhlel’s phone records and computer files revealed links to the detained people, including plans to acquire the truck, which was used to plough through the crowd gathered at Nice’s beachfront to watch the Bastille Day fireworks and a gun used by the assailant during the attack.
Suspect films the scene post-attack
In one chilling turn of events, Molins 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 five suspects will be presented to anti-terrorism judges later Thursday and Molins said prosecutors had requested they be charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, among other crimes.
None of the suspects was known to intelligence services. Only one of them, a 22-year-old Franco-Tunisian, Ramzi A, who was born in Nice, had a criminal record for robbery and drug offences.
Analysis of Bouhlel's telephone revealed pictures taken at a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice in 2015, as well as a concert on the city’s Promenade des Anglais on July 17, 2015, at which he had zoomed in on the crowd.
On May 26 last year, he took a photo of an article about the drug Captagon, which Molins said was "used by some jihadists responsible for attacks".
"It appears... that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel planned and developed his criminal project for several months before taking action," said Molins.
On April 4, another Tunisian, Chokri C., aged 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".
'I am not Charlie'
Molins said the two Mohameds contacted each other 1,278 times between July 2015 and July 2016.
Investigators also found a text message in Bouhlel's phone from Mohamed Oualid on January 10, 2015 – after the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo weekly that spawned the hashtag "I am Charlie" in support of those killed.
The message read: "I am not Charlie .... I am happy they have brought soldiers of Allah to finish the job."
Authorities had initially pointed to a rapid radicalisation by Bouhlel, after several members of his family and friends said he showed no sign of being religious.
Investigators also found photos of Mohamed Oualid in the truck days before the July 14 attack, while video surveillance placed Chokri with Bouhlel in the truck just hours before the 31-year-old Tunisian national ploughed into the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais.
The latest revelations into the truck attack case came as the government announced it was ordering an investigation into allegations of security lapses that enabled Bouhlel to conduct his deadly assault.
The Nice attack was France’s third major terror attack in 18 months and has sparked widespread criticism of the government’s failure to tighten security following the January 7-9, 2015 “Charlie Hebdo” attacks and the November 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)