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.
On 16 June, a Belgian court cleared the extradition to France of two suspects who are currently under investigation in connection with Islamist militant attacks that occurred in Paris last November.
A statement released by the Belgian government disclosed that a Brussels appeals court “declared enforceable” European arrest warrants issued by France for Moahmed Amri and Ali Oulkadi. The prime surviving suspect of the 13 November Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, is Salah Abdeslam, a French citizen who was born and raised in Belgium. He was captured in Brussels on 18 March, after a four-month manhunt, and was handed over to French authorities on 27 April. In May, France sought the extradition of Amri. According to investigators, Amri drove to Paris shortly after the attacks to fetch Abdeslam and bring him to Belgium. Oulkadi, a Frenchman who lived in Brussels, has ben accused of driving Abdeslam on 14 November.
The Paris bomb and shooting attacks were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, as were the 22 March bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station, which killed 32 people.
A court in Belgium has approved the extradition to France of Mohamed Abrini, a key suspect in both the Paris and Brussels attacks. Prosecutors however have disclosed that he may not be handed over for some time as he is currently being investigated in Belgium. Mohamed Bakkali, another suspect in the November 2015 attacks in Paris, will also be extradited.
Belgian judges have agreed that both men should be sent to France in order to face questioning over the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people. Prior to the hearing, Belgian prosecutors disclosed that Abrini would not be handed over the French authorities immediately, as he was still being investigated over the bombings at Zaventem airport and at a metro station immediately after. According to a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office, “the timeline is not at all fixed,” adding that it was possible that Abrini could stand trial in Belgium first before being handed over to France, or he might be questioned in Belgium by French investigators.
Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent, was identified as “the man in the hat,” seen on CCTV just moments before the explosions at Brussels airport in March. He was also filmed at a petrol station in northern France with fellow suspect Salah Abdeslam, two days before the Paris attacks. He reportedly told investigators that he was at the scene of the 22 Mach suicide bombings in Brussels, which killed 32 people.
Investigators claim that the Brussels and Paris attackers were part of the same network, adding that they were backed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Abrini was said to be part of that cell, and before his arrest in Brussels in April, he was one of Europe’s most-wanted men.
The other suspect who will be extradited, 29-year-old Mohamed Bakkali, is believed to have rented the Brussels apartment where the suicide vests that were used in the Paris attacks were assembled.
On 31 May, the mayor of the French capital announced that a camp for migrants is to be set up in the northern region of Paris within the next six weeks.
Anne Hidalgo announced the plans on Tuesday, with officials disclosing that the new camp in Paris is expected to provide both day facilities and overnight accommodation. Speaking to reporters, the Socialist mayor disclosed that “we are going to work extra hard on this,” adding that the exact location of the “humanitarian camp” would be revealed in the next few days after an inspection of possible sites. She also indicated that the current situation was no longer “tenable,” citing a makeshift camp that had sprung up in the north of Paris in the fast few days, which is now home to 800 people. She added that the new camp would be modelled on one created near the northern port of Calais to take people from the unofficial “jungle” encampment. Hundreds of migrants have been camping rough in the capital city.
The lawyer for Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has confirmed that Abdeslam was been placed under formal investigation on terrorism and murder charges in France on 27 April after his extradition from Belgium, adding that the suspect has promised to talk to judges during his next hearing.
After an initial hour-long hearing, lawyer Frank Berton disclosed that “the investigation will determine to what degree he was involved in the acts…for which he had ben put under investigation.” He further stated that “he stayed silent today but said he would talk at a later stage,” adding that the next hearing has been set for 20 May. Berton noted that Abdeslam did not speak on Wednesday as he was tired after a “quite rough” extradition.
A Belgium-born Frenchman, Abdeslam is believed by investigators to be the sole survivor among a group of Islamist militants who killed 130 people in a spate of shootings and suicide bombings that were carried out in Paris on 13 November 2015. According to a statement released by the public prosecutor, Abdeslam was placed under investigation on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, murder, kidnapping and holding weapons and explosives. The kidnap charges relate to the hours-long attack on the Bataclan concert hall, in which ninety people were killed. Investigators have disclosed that Abdeslam told them that he had arranged logistics for the multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Paris and had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France sports stadium before backing out at the last minute. His confession to investigators suggests that he may have been the 10th man referred to an Islamic State (IS) claim of responsibility for the multi-pronged attack on the stadium bars and the Bataclan concert hall. Police found an abandoned suicide vest in a rubbish bin in a Paris suburb following the attack, which stirred speculation that it may have belonged to Abdeslam, who escaped by car back to Belgium a few hours later.
Abdeslam is also suspected of having rented two cars that were used in order to transport the attackers to, and around, the French capital. Abdeslam’s elder brother, Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack on one of several Paris cafes targeted by a group of assailants armed with AK-47 rifles and suicide vests.
Abdeslam, 26, was Europe’s most wanted fugitive until he was captured in Brussels on 18 March after a four-month manhunt. Four days after his capture, other Islamist militants blew themselves up at Brussels international airport and on a metro train, killing 32 people. Abdeslam was taken by helicopter to Paris under armed guard and then driven to the capital city’s main law courts. French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas has indicated that Abdeslam would be held in solitary confinement in a high-security prison in the Paris region, with his cell under CCTV surveillance.
Police in Belgium have arrested a number of Abdeslam’s associates, including Mohamed Abrini, who was wanted in connection with both the Paris and Brussels attacks.