France Attacked AgainJuly 18, 2016 in France
On Thursday 14 July, Bastille Day in France, at least 84 people, including several children, were killed and dozens more hurt after a man drove a lorry into crowds who had gathered to celebrate along the famous Promenade Des Anglais in the French seaside city. Some 202 people were injured in the attack, with 52 in critical condition, of whom 25 are on life support.
The driver of the lorry has since been identified as Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31. French prosecutors have disclosed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had driven the 19-tonne lorry 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) along the Promenade des Anglais and fired at police with a 7.65 mm calibre automatic pistol when the vehicle was close to the Negreco hotel. He continued for another 300 m, where his vehicle was stopped near the Palais de la Mediterranee hotel, where he was shot dead by police. Weapons found inside the lorry were replicas or fake and included an ammunition magazine, a fake pistol, replica Kalashnikov and M16 rifles, and a dummy grenade. There was also a bicycle, empty pallets, documents and a mobile phone. The attack occurred at about 22:45 local time (20:45 GMT).
According to French Prosecutor Francois Molins, a search of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s Nice home has been carried out and a number of items have been seized. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a chauffer and delivery man, had three children but had separated from his wife, who was taken into police custody on Friday. The prosecutor added that while he was known to the police as a petty criminal, he was “totally unknown to intelligence services…and was never flagged for signs of radicalization.”
While Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated that he could not confirm links to jihadism, Prime Minister Manuel Valls later told France 2 television that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was a “terrorist without doubt linked to radical Islamism in one way or another.”
Tunisian security sources have disclosed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel came from the Tunisian town of Msaken, adding that he visited the North African country frequently, the last time being eight months ago. Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas has disclosed that the suspect had been given a suspended sentence earlier this year following a confrontation with another driver, adding that this was his only conviction.
Since Friday, five people believed to be linked to Lahouaiej-Bouhlel have been taken into police custody. According to the Paris prosecutor’s office, three arrests were made on Saturday and two on Friday, including Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s estranged wife.
IS Claims Responsibility
On 16 July, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group claimed reasonability for the attack in Nice. The jihadist-linked Amaq news agency quoted an IS security source as stating that one of its “soldiers” carried out the atrocity “in response to calls to target nations of coalition states that are fighting (IS).”
President Francois Hollande, who arrived in Nice on Friday, stated that Thursday’s attack was of “an undeniable terrorist nature,” warning that the battle against terrorism would be long, as France faced an enemy “that will continue to attack those people and those countries that count liberty as an essential value.” President Hollande further disclosed that the attack was carried out “to satisfy the cruelty of an individual or possibly a group” and that many of the victims were foreigners and young children, adding “we will overcome the suffering because we are a united France.
A state of emergency, which has been in place since the November 2015 Paris attacks, has been extended by three months. It was due to end at the end of this month. This means that police and soldiers will continue to be on the streets, guarding key buildings. It also means that scanners and metal arches will be placed at some shops and regular bag searches will be carried out. Gendarme reserves have been called up in support. There are already tighter checks at France’s borders.
France however is under scrutiny that a terrorist attack has occurred while the country was under an emergency state. Security services have denied that they relaxed after the Euro 2016 football tournament, which concluded on 10 July, and there has been praise for the relentless job that they have done in recent months and for the speed of their reaction during the attack in Nice. While intelligence gathering has improved, predicting and preventing every attack is impossible, with some questioning whether even a state of emergency is an effective level of response. In the wake of the attack in Nice, French authorities have warned that they are going to have to live with terrorism.