Dancing, drugs, extremism: Multiple lives of Nice attacker

  • PTI, Paris
  • Updated: Jul 25, 2016 01:02 IST
A reproduction of the residence permit of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the man who rammed his truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice on July 14. (AFP File)

A 31-year-old father of three obsessed with fitness and sex, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel led multiple lives. His darkest side appears to have been his best-kept secret: A calculated, committed jihadi ready to kill scores of people in a French Riviera rampage.

Information emerging from authorities and people who knew him suggests Bouhlel concealed his different worlds from each other, and may have been following Islamic State guidance to blend in and hide his radicalism while he plotted violence.

There was his family life, three children under age six, including an 18-month-old born just after his wife split with Bouhlel, accusing him of frequent abuse.

Then there was his erratic social life: Smoking pot with acquaintances in the Tunisian immigrant community; martial arts training and possible steroid use to bulk up muscle; salsa dancing to pick up women; and a reported male lover in his 70s.

And now, it appears that Bouhlel had an extremist life, too, built up over months as he prepared for the Bastille Day attack.

His parallel worlds are complicating investigators’ efforts to figure out who he was, who might have helped with the attack, whether other violence was planned. They may never have a definitive answer: Bouhlel was killed by police after ramming his truck through a family-filled crowd enjoying fireworks.

Authorities initially said Bouhlel had radicalised very quickly. Family and neighbours described him as indifferent to religion, volatile and prone to drinking sprees.

But on Thursday, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said investigators found images in Bouhlel’s phone suggesting he was premeditating an attack as far back as a year ago.

Molins said Bouhlel studied Captagon, a drug used by some jihadis before attacks. He had a screenshot of a previous vehicle attack in a crowd. He obtained weapons through a string of acquaintances.

Authorities say Bouhlel drew inspiration from IS propaganda, though there is no sign the attack was commandeered by the extremist group’s bases in Syria or Iraq.

Yet his turn to extremism went unnoticed by relatives, neighbours and acquaintances. And police and prosecutors investigating Bouhlel for a road rage incident in early 2016 saw no reason to flag him as a potential risk.

A French security official said this may have been intentional, in response to IS suggestions to some followers in the West that they hide their radical faith to stay off police radar. Attackers who targeted Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016 are believed to have done the same.

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