Friday, June 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

French Authorities Arrest Two in Nice Truck Attack

NICE, France (AP) — French authorities investigating the truck attack that killed 84 people at a Bastille Day celebration in Nice detained two more people Sunday and released the dead attacker's estranged wife as they tried to determine whether he had been an Islamic extremist or just a very angry man.

More than 200 people were also wounded in the carnage wrought by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel on the seafront of this southern Mediterranean city.

About 85 people remained hospitalized Sunday. Of those, 18, including a child, were still in life-threatening condition, Health Minister Marisol Touraine told reporters on a visit to the city.

The Paris prosecutor's office said only 35 bodies have been definitively identified so far. Touraine also said one of the people hospitalized still has not been identified.

A man and a woman were detained Sunday morning in Nice, according to an official with the Paris prosecutor's office, which oversees national terrorism investigations. The two are suspected of helping Bouhlel obtain a pistol that was found in the truck, according to a French security official not authorized to be publicly named speaking about an ongoing investigation.

Shortly afterward, Bouhlel's estranged wife, who was arrested Friday, was released from custody, according to an official in the Paris prosecutor's office. She is the mother of Bouhlel's three children and was in the process of divorcing him.

The woman's lawyer, Jean-Yves Garino, told BFM-TV that Bouhlel physically abused her and the rest of the family, and she eventually threw him out of the house.

"It was hard, but she did it," Garino said, adding, "she was no longer in contact with him."

In total, six people now remain in custody related to the truck attack, but officials have provided no details about their identities.

Bouhlel sent one of those people text messages just before the attack, the French security official said. The official would not comment on the content of the text messages or confirm reports that they included a request for more weapons.

Investigators are hunting for possible accomplices of Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian who had lived in Nice for years. He was killed by police after ramming his truck through crowds after a holiday fireworks display Thursday night.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it's unclear whether Bouhlel had concrete links to the group. IS said he was following their call to target citizens of countries fighting the extremists.

The security official said Bouhlel sold his car just before the attack, which appeared premeditated.

All seven people taken in for questioning said Bouhlel was violent and unstable. While they all said he had long been indifferent to religion, some described a recent and very rapid conversion to radical Islam, the official said.

Neighbors also described the attacker as volatile, prone to drinking and womanizing. His father, in Tunisia, said his son did not pray or fast for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

But French authorities believe that something may have changed. Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that authorities "now know that the killer radicalized very quickly."

The Islamic State group "is encouraging individuals unknown to our services to stage attacks ... that is without a doubt the case in the Nice attack," he said Sunday.

Nice's famous Promenade des Anglais, the site of the slaughter, has reopened. Memorials for the dead have been set up on the westbound lane of the road where the victims were mowed down by Bouhlel. Some areas are still stained by blood.

Joggers, bikers and sunbathers cruised down the pedestrian walkway along the glistening Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, where well-wishers placed flowers, French flags, stuffed animals and candles for the victims.

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

A woman asked if she could put a yellow potted plant there, unaware of the significance of the spot. A man nearby declared "Never here." An argument ensued, with other passers-by saying that his family deserved respect.

"Are you defending him?" the man said, incredulously.

Many families are angry and frustrated that they couldn't find information about their missing loved ones.

The prosecutor's office says the identification of the 49 remaining bodies is being carried out according to an accelerated procedure established after the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, using DNA or medical records provided by families.

The prosecutor's office says it is working as quickly as possible but would not give a time frame for how long the identification process could take.

The families of 12 victims were able to see the bodies of their loves ones Sunday for the first time — three days after the killings.

Officials also have at last identified a 7-year-old boy in a coma whose picture had been circulated on social media after no relatives stepped forward immediately after he was injured in the attack.

The spokeswoman of Lenval children's hospital in Nice, Stephanie Simpson, said the boy is Romanian and had been visiting Nice with his parents, who are missing.

Many in France are also angry at police and authorities for not preventing the deadly attack, even though France was under a state of emergency imposed after Islamic State attacks last year in Paris.

Valls defended the government's actions but warned that more lives will be lost to this kind of violence.

"Terrorism will be part of our daily lives for a long time," he said.

A special church service was being held at a Nice cathedral Sunday in honor of the victims.


Charlton reported from Paris. Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.