French prosecutor says new information points to Tunisian Bouhlel being radicalized over a period of several months.
Tunisian truck killer Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was helped to prepare his Bastille Day attack by five suspects who are now in custody, a prosecutor said on Thursday.
Francois Molins said the four men and a women were “involved in the preparation” of the attack in the French Riviera resort of Nice, which had been planned months in advance. More than 400 investigators have been poring over evidence since the July 14 attack in which Bouhlel rammed a truck into crowds on the Nice promenade, leaving 84 dead and over 300 injured.
“Investigations have not only confirmed the premeditated nature of the attack, but allowed us to establish that [Bouhlel] had support and accomplices in the preparation and execution of his criminal act,” he said.
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 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 tons of iron… release the brakes my friend and I will watch.”
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 Jan. 10, 2015—roughly a year after attacks on the Charlie Hebdo weekly which 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 radicalization 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 used to carry out the attack on July 11 and 13, while video surveillance placed Chokri with Bouhlel in the truck just hours before the attack.