Mohamed Lahouaiyej Bouhlel was radicalised only two weeks before he killed 84 people with a truck, his uncle told the Associated Press.
An Algerian recruiter for ISIS approached and started indoctrinating Bouhlel about two weeks before the truck attack, his uncle in Tunisia reportedly found out from relatives who live in Nice.
His uncle said that considering his nephew’s family problems — he was estranged from his wife and kids, had a strained relation with his father, and had not been home in four years — ISIS, the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh, had “found in Mohamed an easy prey,” AP reports.
According to Bouhlel’s family, he was not a practicing Muslim, never prayed, drank alcohol, and had been battling depression for years. The specialist he saw in Tunisia after he became depressed told the French publication L’Express that he was violent and had “problems with his body.”
Family members and neighbours in his hometown of M’saken in Tunisia told the French newspaper Le Monde that he was “not normal” and that what he was saying often did not make any sense. They also said he loved to “show his muscles in a bizarre way” and that it was easy to see that he was disturbed.
On Monday, French officials still had not been able to establish a link between the attacker and any militant organisations. They also could not confirm his uncle’s claim about the Algerian ISIS recruiter, citing the ongoing investigation.
If he was an Islamist militant, he must have become radicalised very quickly, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Saturday. The same day, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying through the Amaq news agency: “The person who carried out the operation in Nice, France, to run down people was one of the soldiers of Islamic State.”
Two hundred police officers are working on the information revealed through Bouhlel’s phone, which was found in the truck he used during the attack. According to the French broadcaster BFMTV, among the findings were texts he sent minutes before the attack, asking people to send him more weapons. One of the recipients of the message is detained by the police.
Other information that investigators found from the phone point toward a split personality; the police reportedly found a slew of selfies — including one taken in the truck — internet searches for fitness clubs and salsa clubs, as well as extremely violent sites that showed executions.
Though the juxtaposition of his life — a ladies’ man who drank alcohol, did not pray, and was an avid gym-goer — and his radicalisation has puzzled investigators, experts on radicalisation say this is far from an isolated case.
Dounia Bouzar, the head of a radicalisation prevention centre, said on BFMTV that this was a common profile: “He had three, four women a day. This is a psychological profile we know well … He joined radical Islam thinking that he would manage to slow down, to find a balance.”
Mohamed Sifaou, an expert on Islamic radicalisation also said on BFMTV that the radicalisation could even happen on the same day as a suicide attack because “Islamic ideologists are saying that dying as a martyr forgives all sins.”
This is all part of ISIS’ strategy — it tries to recruit disaffected Muslims living abroad who are not devout under the pretence that they can be “forgiven” for all their sins if they become “soldiers of the caliphate” and die as martyrs.
ISIS has also called for people who could not make it to Syria or Iraq to pledge allegiance to their group from their country and kill as many people as possible with any means available.
In the video, the man encourages ISIS supporters to run people over: “There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit … Kill them and spit in their faces and run over them with your cars.”
Boulhel’s split personality, his fragile mental state and the type of the attack — he used a rented truck, something easily available to the majority of the population — highlight how difficult zeroing in on potential ISIS recruits is and how thwarting attacks is becoming increasingly hard.
On Saturday, Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, said that what happened in Nice was an attack of a new kind that showed the “extreme difficulty of the fight against terrorism.”
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