French authorities now reveal that the Nice terrorist was not only religious, and not “fast radicalized” as previously asserted, but planned his attack along with accomplices over many months.
Top anti-terror prosecutor François Molins on Thursday revealed that Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel showed ties to Islamic terrorism at the time of the January 2015 jihadist attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris and a kosher market, according to the Wall Street Journal. The magazine had run satirical cartoons depicting Muhammad. The new report from Molins contradicted statements in recent days from Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Prime Minister Manuel Valls that Bouhlel had become “fast radicalized” before killing 84 and injuring many more with a large delivery truck and other weapons in a Bastille Day terror attack.
Molins indicated that a year before his Islamic terror attack, Bouhlel surveilled the scene of the murders and communicated with accomplices more than 1,000 times, according to WSJ. Investigations continue into any connections between the Islamic terror group and a larger group such as the Islamic State.
The five suspects in French custody include “an Albanian couple, two men with Tunisian and French nationality and one man with only Tunisian nationality,” according to the report.
Early reports from a host of media outlets suggested that Bouhlel was not religious and did not attend mosque. Family members back in Tunisia pointed to a history of mental instability. Then came the reports from the French officials of “fast radicalization” and a report in the Telegraph that cited the testimony of a neighbor to Bouhlel’s estranged wife that said Bouhlel had been attending mosque at least since April.
Molins had previously revealed that “in just the two weeks before the attacks — [Bouhlel] searched ‘on a near-daily basis’ for information on suras, or chapters of the Quran; on nasheeds, or chants, that have been used by jihadist groups like the Islamic State; on Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan; and on attacks in Orlando, Dallas and Magnanville, France, where an Islamic State militant killed a police captain and his companion last month,” according to the New York Times.
Bouhlel appears to have moved to France in 2005 and may have had little contact with family back home in recent years. Bouhlel’s brother back in Tunisia indicated to Reuters that he had sent money back home regularly at times, as many other Tunisians working abroad also do. Days before committing the terrorist attack in Nice, Bouhlel sent funds worth £84,000.
Bouhlel was said to have begun growing a beard for religious purposes in recent months. In May 2015, Bouhlel saved an article about a stimulant used by jihadists according to WSJ. In July 2015, he took photos of Bastille Day celebrations and in July and August photographed crowds at the promenade in Nice. In January of this year, an article about using a car in an attack was saved by Bouhlel.
There is also an indication from one individual on Facebook to Bouhlel suggesting weighting down a truck and cutting the brakes. WSJ reported that two of the suspected conspirators have been connected to the truck Bouhlel used. He also texted three of the suspects with the name of the rental company on July 5. More text messages were sent from Bouhlel to suspects just before the terror attack. One suspect has also been identified as having recorded himself from on scene as emergency services responded.
Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana.