Reader's Digest International - - Front Page - BY SCOTT SA­YARE FROM GQ

The French gov­ern­ment quickly an­nounced he was a ter­ror­ist. The truth is a lot stranger.

ON A MON­DAY LAST SUM­MER, a man phoned a rental agency on the out­skirts of Nice, on France’s Mediter­ranean coast, to in­quire about a large cargo truck. He would be mov­ing to Mont­pel­lier on July 11, the man said. No trucks were avail­able for that date, and he signed off.

Some in Nice knew the man as one of the many play­boy preda­tors the city seems to beget—black hair slicked back, dress shoes ta­per­ing to var­nished points, a dark shirt un­but­toned low. He was 31 but pre­ferred older women, both for their erotic open­ness and, it seems clear, for their money. Those who knew him best knew him to be a cold and bru­tal man, de­tached, amused by lit­tle save rough sex and gore.

He worked as a de­liv­ery­man, driv­ing a 13-ton truck. In late June, though, he had taken sev­eral weeks off, and now seemed to those he en­coun­tered to be rest­less and bored, or per­haps un­der the sway of some deep­en­ing mad­ness, as sev­eral wit­nesses have tes­ti­fied. He might have spent his va­ca­tion with his three young chil­dren, but to see them would have meant ar­rang­ing things with his es­tranged wife. Rather, as usual, he ped­aled his blue bi­cy­cle around the city, shot self­ies, phoned ac­quain­tances and browsed the In­ter­net.

“Ter­ri­ble deadly ac­ci­dent,” “shock­ing video not for the faint of heart,” he typed. For months, he had been watch­ing be­head­ings; he kept an im­age folder filled with corpses and vis-

cera. The par­tic­u­lars—the iden­ti­ties of the dead, the mo­tives of the killers— were not of any ev­i­dent in­ter­est; any butch­ery would do.

In the fi­nal two weeks of his life, how­ever, the man ap­peared to de­velop an in­ter­est in Is­lam, the re­li­gion into which he had been born. He played recita­tions of the Ko­ran in his car; he crit­i­cized a friend for lis­ten­ing to mu­sic; he be­gan to grow a beard. On­line, he re­searched a mas­sacre at a Florida night­club, car­ried out in the name of the Is­lamic State.

On Tues­day, July 5, the man called the rental agency again. There had been a can­cel­la­tion; a white Re­nault Pre­mium, with a to­tal haul­ing ca­pac­ity of 21 tons, had be­come avail­able. The man vis­ited the agency with a de­posit check for 1,600 eu­ros. His driver’s li­cense iden­ti­fied him as Mo­hamed Salmène La­houaiej Bouh­lel, a Tu­nisian liv­ing in Nice. “He was very re­laxed, very calm, and very at­ten­tive,” the re­cep­tion­ist said in a de­po­si­tion.

La­houaiej Bouh­lel re­turned on July 11 to pick up the truck. When he got back to Nice, he guided the white truck along the Prom­e­nade des Anglais, a busy road and broad walk­way that runs along the Mediter­ranean. He

drove along the Prom­e­nade at least ten times more in the com­ing 72 hours.

Since 1880, France has held a na­tional cel­e­bra­tion on July 14, the day on which, in 1789, sev­eral hun­dred French­men stormed the Bastille Saint An­toine, a royal fortress and prison in eastern Paris, in the first pitched bat­tle of the French Rev­o­lu­tion. The fes­tiv­i­ties of­ten in­clude mil­i­tary pa­rades, and La­houaiej Bouh­lel pho­tographed him­self that day on the Prom­e­nade in front of mil­i­tary jeeps and a tank.

At lunchtime he vis­ited his aunt and un­cle, who fed him melon and a salad. Their re­la­tions were cor­dial, but his rel­a­tives found La­houaiej Bouh­lel to be bizarre and in­scrutable. Lately, to his un­cle’s con­fu­sion, he had been speak­ing fa­vor­ably about the ji­hadists in Syria. “He ab­so­lutely wasn’t re­li­gious,” the un­cle said in a de­po­si­tion. La­houaiej Bouh­lel told his aunt he would be go­ing to watch the fire­works that night.

At 9:34, he drove the white truck to­ward the wa­ter, where the fire­works were to be­gin at ten. An es­ti­mated 30,000 tourists and lo­cals had crowded the beaches and the Prom­e­nade. The fire­works ended at 10:20 or so; the street­lights lit up again. The crowds lin­gered.

At 10:32, La­houaiej Bouh­lel pulled onto the Prom­e­nade’s wide south­ern thor­ough­fare. He rode along with the

traf­fic for 1,000 feet or so un­til, across from the chil­dren’s hospi­tal, he drove up onto the broad side­walk, filled now with rev­el­ers and fam­i­lies. He had ex­tin­guished his head­lights. Soon came the crack of ex­plod­ing sea­side benches, and the dull thud of bodies spin­ning off the front edges of the truck. Its driver grinned.


Ali Char­rihi, 37, watched the fire­works from the side­walk with his par­ents, his wife and three young chil­dren, and his cousin Saïd. Ali and his mother, Fa­tima, had come to Nice in 1984 from a Ber­ber vil­lage in Morocco; his father, a fac­tory worker and la­borer, had moved to France 11 years ear­lier. Fa­tima, who cleaned houses, was a cheru­bic woman, with small, smil­ing eyes and round cheeks made to seem all the fuller by the hi­jab that ringed her face. That night she de­cided that the fam­ily would re­main on the Prom­e­nade af­ter the fire­works, to walk to­gether.

Ali and his father hur­ried off with Ali’s two sons to re-park their cars. That left four of them on the Prom­e­nade: Fa­tima, Saïd, and Ali’s wife, who was push­ing her young daugh­ter in a stroller. The girl asked to be picked up, and Saïd took her in his arms.

There was a loud crack, and Saïd turned to see the bench a few yards be­yond them ex­plode into splin­ters. “Truck!” he shouted. With the young girl in his arms, he leaped from the side­walk down to the rocky beach be­low. The right edge of the truck passed inches from Ali’s wife’s face, and tore the empty stroller from her hands. Where Fa­tima had been, there was noth­ing.

The side­walk was about ten yards wide, and rev­el­ers were fairly sparse on this stretch of the Prom­e­nade. La­houaiej Bouh­lel cut the wheel to aim at his vic­tims, who of­ten failed to see him com­ing in the shad­owy light. In his wake, the crowd be­gan to scream and run from the Prom­e­nade.

The first po­lice of­fi­cer to see the white truck was a mil­i­tary vet­eran with a clean-shaven head named Christophe*. He called it in at 10:33, con­fu­sion and urgency in his voice: “We’ve got a truck that’s com­pletely crazy, that just ran peo­ple over!” He and two col­leagues gave chase in their car, fol­low­ing the truck on the side­walk, but in avoid­ing the bodies, they could not keep pace. They watched help­lessly through the wind­shield.

La­houaiej Bouh­lel ac­cel­er­ated to per­haps 35 miles per hour. The crowds were denser in this sec­tion. At about one and a half kilo­me­ters, at 10:34, he struck Amie, a bub­bly 12-year-old from Nice, out with another fam­ily for the fes­tiv­i­ties. At the chil­dren’s hospi­tal, she told her par­ents that some kindly per­son had washed her face with tow­els from a beach club. She died within the hour.

The white truck ac­cel­er­ated to per-

haps 55 miles per hour. It flew past a po­lice bar­ri­cade in the road­way; be­hind the metal bar­ri­ers, the streets were open to pedes­tri­ans, and La­houaiej Bouh­lel turned left off the side­walk into the crowd. Jean-Pierre Joussemet, a 78-year-old re­tiree, a small man with white hair and glasses, was push­ing his 80-year-old wife in a wheel­chair. They lived in an apart­ment nearby. She was in the ad­vanced stages of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, and he cared for her, tak­ing her out most days to walk the Prom­e­nade. Their daugh­ter found her later, fright­ened and con­fused, at the Ge­la­te­ria Pinoc­chio; her wheel­chair was in the street, and Jean-Pierre was nowhere to be found.

In ad­di­tion to the din of the par­ty­go­ers, there were loud con­certs on the side­walk, and the white truck thus seemed to ar­rive smooth and silent. For two kilo­me­ters, it drove no stam­pede, no rush to es­cape; the truck was rolling for­ward far more quickly than the wave of panic it set off.

The crowds grew denser still, and La­houaiej Bouh­lel slowed con­sid­er­ably as he reached the Hô­tel Ne­gresco, a pink-domed Belle Époque palace.

The rental-agency re­cep­tion­ist, who lived nearby, watched the white truck pass in front of the ho­tel. “He was slalom­ing, to hit ev­ery­thing he saw,” she told in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

It was 10:35. The po­lice had been alerted that a truck was driv­ing down the Prom­e­nade. Three of­fi­cers, stand­ing be­side the thick palms in the cen­ter of the road, watched as La­houaiej Bouh­lel ap­proached, sw­erv­ing sharply. One of the of­fi­cers later said he as­sumed the driver was drunk. He



trained his gun on the truck as his col­leagues yelled, “You, stop!” La­houaiej Bouh­lel looked down on them silently from be­hind the driver’s-side win­dow and slowed as if to speak. The win­dow shat­tered sud­denly, as La­houaiej Bouh­lel fired three shots and pulled away. The of­fi­cers chased the white truck on foot.

It did not go far, only an ad­di­tional 150 yards or so. The truck was limp­ing now, its hood and bumper gone, a front tire squeal­ing as it went flat. It came to a halt across from the Palais de la Méditer­ranée, a mas­sive ho­tel and casino. For a time, noth­ing hap­pened. The truck sat idling in

the de­serted street; the po­lice giv­ing chase half ex­pected to see it ex­plode. A man, a civil­ian, climbed up to the driver’s-side door and tried to throw punches through the win­dow. La­houaiej Bouh­lel pulled his gun on the man, who lost his bal­ance and fell to the ground. La­houaiej Bouh­lel fired at him but missed.

The po­lice shot back, and pock­marks ap­peared across the wind­shield. The killer ducked and shifted to the pas­sen­ger side of the cabin. An of­fi­cer ap­proached the truck on this side, raised her pis­tol above her head, and fired eight rounds into the open win­dow. The shoot­ing stopped; the mo­tor was still run­ning; it was 10:36. La­houaiej Bouh­lel had been shot 16 times.

Christophe, who had been the first to see the white truck, ar­rived just as the shoot­ing stopped. The street was slip­pery with blood and brain tis­sue and scat­tered with tele­phones, wal­lets, keys. White bed­sheets from the Palais de la Méditer­ranée were draped over the bodies. They were 20 na­tion­al­i­ties in all, ages 2 to 92.

An el­derly man wan­dered into the perime­ter the po­lice had set up around the truck, and when the of­fi­cers saw him, he spoke. “I’m not a threat,” he said. “I want to stay with my wife.” He lay down on the pave­ment be­side a white shroud.

A woman came to speak with the po­lice. “But I don’t un­der­stand,” she said. “I was walk­ing, I went to see the ocean. Then I heard a sound, and now

I can’t find my hus­band and my child.” In her shock, it was as if she could not see the bodies, the blood, the white truck rid­dled with bul­let holes.

Two kilo­me­ters back down the Prom­e­nade, Ali Char­rihi knelt at his mother’s side. Fa­tima’s eyes were closed, her lips pursed in a slight smile. She bled from a gash run­ning from her palm down her wrist; blood pooled be­hind her head. A young nurse per­formed CPR. Ali’s father ar­rived and took his wife’s foot in his hand. The paramedics jolted her three times with a de­fib­ril­la­tor be­fore one of them pointed to Fa­tima’s ear and the blood trick­ling from it. “I’m sin­cerely sorry,” the man said. Ali’s father fainted. His wife, it is be­lieved, was the first to die.

In a lo­cal hospi­tal, some days later, mem­bers of Jean-Pierre Joussemet’s fam­ily were taken to see a pa­tient in a coma who could not be iden­ti­fied. The left side of his body, from his fore­head down, was a con­tin­u­ous bruise, grotesquely swollen. The man was Jean-Pierre. He died in Au­gust, the 86th and fi­nal vic­tim.


Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande was in Avi­gnon when told of the at­tack. He re­turned to Paris and the pres­i­den­tial palace, where, shortly be­fore 4 a.m., he gave a tele­vised ad­dress. “Hor­ror has once again be­fallen France,” he said. At the time, 77 had al­ready been de­clared dead. The iden­tity of the driver of the white truck had not yet been “ver­i­fied” but his mo­tives were self-ev­i­dent, Hol­lande said. He men­tioned the Novem­ber 2015 ji­hadist at­tacks in Paris. “Now Nice is the one to be hit,” he said. “The whole of France is un­der threat from Is­lamist ter­ror­ism.”

By July 15, in­ves­ti­ga­tors had con­firmed La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s iden­tity, but this did not im­me­di­ately sug­gest that he was, as the pres­i­dent had wa­gered, a ji­hadist. He had been con­victed on as­sault charges ear­lier in the year for at­tack­ing a man af­ter he had com­plained that his de­liv­ery truck was block­ing traf­fic, an­nounced François Molins, the coun­try’s top pros­e­cu­tor, and had re­ceived a sus­pended six-month prison sen­tence. “He is, on the other hand, ut­terly un­known to the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.” La­houaiej Bouh­lel seemed to have pro­duced no ji­hadist pro­pa­ganda or pledge of al­le­giance to a ter­ror­ist group.

The next morn­ing, the Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack. Amaq, one of the group’s pro­pa­ganda agen­cies, said that the killer had an­swered the “calls for tar­get­ing the na­tion­als of coun­tries in the coali­tion that is fight­ing the Is­lamic State.” At a press con­fer­ence, how­ever, Molins de­scribed La­houaiej Bouh­lel as “an in­di­vid­ual at a great re­move from re­li­gious con­sid­er­a­tions, who did not prac­tice the Mus­lim re­li­gion, who ate pork, drank al­co­hol, con­sumed drugs, and had an un­bri­dled sex life.”

Still, he noted that the killer had shown “a re­cent in­ter­est in the rad­i­cal ji­hadist move­ment” and that the at­tack looked very much like the sort the Is­lamic State had en­cour­aged. But he cau­tioned that “no el­e­ment of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion at this time shows an al­le­giance by Mo­hamed La­houaiej Bouh­lel to the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, nor ties to in­di­vid­u­als pre­sent­ing them­selves as mem­bers of that or­ga­ni­za­tion.”


La­houaiej Bouh­lel was raised in Msaken, Tu­nisia, one of ten sib­lings. He was a volatile and un­ruly boy, hit­ting other chil­dren, break­ing doors at home. He ob­sessed over his ap­pear­ance, and be­gan lift­ing weights as an ado­les­cent. “I am ugly,” he told a psy­chi­a­trist at 19, in 2004, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the New York Times. “I’ve got to build my­self up.”

The doc­tor pre­scribed an an­tide­pres­sant, an anx­i­olytic, and Hal­dol, an an­tipsy­chotic of­ten pre­scribed to treat schizophre­nia and ag­gres­sion. “There were the begin­nings of a psy­chosis,” the psy­chi­a­trist told the Times. A good stu­dent, he would have liked to go abroad to univer­sity; his father, a live­stock trader and prop­erty owner who was re­puted to be pros­per­ous but miserly, re­fused to send him.

Mar­riage was his path out. Ha­jer Khal­fal­lah, a prac­tic­ing Mus­lim who wore a hi­jab, had been born in Msaken but was raised in Nice and held French cit­i­zen­ship; she was his first cousin. They mar­ried in 2006, when she was 22 and he was 21. “Our mar­riage was happy at the start,” Khal­fal­lah told po­lice. They moved to a hous­ing pro­ject in the north­ern part of Nice. She called him Momo. La­houaiej Bouh­lel con­tin­ued to lift weights, and he asked his wife to take pic­tures of his body, to track his “progress.” “It was al­ways him first,” she said. “He paid a lot of at­ten­tion to him­self.”

In 2010, he went to work for a bev­er­age-dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany as a de­liv­ery driver. Af­ter about six months, clients be­gan to com­plain about his be­hav­ior. “He tended to strut around, to show off,” one of his man­agers said. Af­ter a com­pany party in late 2011, there were com­plaints that La­houaiej Bouh­lel had made in­ap­pro­pri­ate ad­vances to sev­eral wait­resses and wait­ers. He was fired; he had to be es­corted off the premises by po­lice.

His mar­riage be­gan to de­te­ri­o­rate. He com­plained about his wife’s cook­ing and clean­ing, and found she spent too much time with her mother. Her in­ter­est in sex was not suit­ably strong, in his es­ti­ma­tion. He be­gan to hit her. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, she called her hus­band’s friend Roger* and asked him to in­ter­vene. Roger, a gay man in his 70s, would scold his friend, who would in­evitably re­spond, “You’re right.”

Roger and La­houaiej Bouh­lel had met at a gym in Nice. Roger found

him to be “charm­ing” and “ex­cep­tion­ally kind.” They bonded over a shared dis­taste for Maghrébins, or North African Arabs. “He loved France, he loved the French, and he hated the Arabs,” Roger told in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Roger, too, called him Momo; he called Roger “dear friend.” Many of Roger’s friends, like many of those who knew La­houaiej Bouh­lel, as­sumed the two men were lovers. “He wasn’t in­ter­ested in men,” Roger said. “He liked women too much.”

Even­tu­ally, La­houaiej Bouh­lel and his wife sep­a­rated and be­gan di­vorce pro­ceed­ings. He moved to a small apart­ment in the east of the city. In 2012, La­houaiej Bouh­lel be­gan tak­ing lessons in salsa and bachata, as of­ten as four nights a week. He was said to have slept with sev­eral of his fe­male class­mates.

In Jan­uary 2015, ji­hadists mur­dered much of the staff of Char­lie Hebdo, a satir­i­cal news­pa­per based in Paris, for pub­lish­ing car­i­ca­tures of the prophet Muham­mad. Roger re­ceived a mes­sage from his friend: Je suis Char­lie, the slo­gan of sup­port for the vic­tims. Roger was pleased, but he also be­lieved La­houaiej Bouh­lel hadn’t the faintest idea what Char­lie Hebdo had done to so anger the ji­hadists. “That was all over his head,” he told in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

La­houaiej Bouh­lel had seemed sad be­fore the at­tack, Roger said, per­haps de­pressed. He al­lowed for the pos­si­bil­ity that his friend had in­deed been in­doc­tri­nated, but this would have had to have oc­curred “only at the very end,” he said, and in­vis­i­bly. Roger men­tioned An­dreas Lu­b­itz, the pi­lot who in 2015 killed him­self and



149 other peo­ple when he de­lib­er­ately crashed Ger­man­wings Flight 9525 into the moun­tains north of Nice. “Momo did the same thing,” he sug­gested. “He wanted, in death, for peo­ple to talk about him.”


In ad­di­tion to La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s life­less body and a 7.65-mm pis­tol, the po­lice found two plas­tic im­i­ta­tion M16 as­sault ri­fles, a plas­tic im­i­ta­tion Beretta hand­gun, and a plas­tic mock grenade in the cabin of the white truck. What he in­tended to do with th­ese props is hardly clear. Also with his body was a phone, which

dis­played a text mes­sage he’d sent mo­ments be­fore steer­ing onto the Prom­e­nade. “Salam Ramzy,” it be­gan. “The pis­tol that you gave me yes­ter­day is great, so let’s have five more from where your buddy lives, 7 Rue Mi­ol­lis on the fifth floor. It’s for Chokri and his friends.”

Oddly, La­houaiej Bouh­lel had sev­eral hours ear­lier made a voice record­ing on his phone that con­tained al­most iden­ti­cal lan­guage. The record­ing placed the gun pur­chase on “the day be­fore yes­ter­day”: Po­lice say this was the ac­tual day on which La­houaiej Bouh­lel had gone to an apart­ment at 7 Rue Mi­ol­lis and, with the as­sis­tance of Ramzi Arefa, his co­caine dealer, pur­chased a gun. The record­ing also noted omi­nously that “Chokri and his friends” were “ready for next month,” and that they were “now at Walid’s.”

On July 15, on the ad­vice of his lawyer, La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s friend Mo­hamed Oualid Ghraieb, widely known as Walid, con­tacted the po­lice, of­fer­ing his as­sis­tance and hop­ing to make clear his hor­ror at what his friend had done. He was orig­i­nally from Tu­nisia, he said in a de­po­si­tion, and for the past seven years had worked as a re­cep­tion­ist at a small ho­tel in Nice. He and La­houaiej Bouh­lel had met more than a decade ear­lier, at a gym in Tu­nisia, and had seen each other again by chance in 2009, at a gym in Nice.

The po­lice asked ques­tions about Is­lam, and Ghraieb ex­plained that he con­sid­ered him­self to be a Mus­lim but that he did not prac­tice. He was asked about the re­li­gious prac­tices of his friends in Nice. “I don’t have any friends here,” Ghraieb said. “My life is with my wife and my step­daugh­ter, my dogs. I don’t spend time with Maghrébins, be­cause I don’t like them.”

The po­lice placed Ghraieb un­der ar­rest. “I wanted to show my good faith by com­ing to see you to of­fer my help,” he protested. He called La­houaiej Bouh­lel “a coward, a thug, a mur­derer,” and a “bas­tard,” and added that he con­demned his “abom­inable act.”

Over the fol­low­ing days, Ghraieb in­sisted that he and La­houaiej Bouh­lel were not close. When he was told that their tele­phones had been in con­tact 1,278 times over the pre­ced­ing 12 months, he con­ceded that they would ex­change “dumb mes­sages” and calls, “but there was noth­ing special in th­ese calls.” Ghraieb also ad­mit­ted that he’d rid­den in the white truck af­ter La­houaiej Bouh­lel had picked it up at the rental agency, but said he had got­ten scared when his friend be­gan driv­ing er­rat­i­cally. “I told him I wanted to get out, and he fi­nally stopped. But he made fun of me, and told me, ‘You’re afraid of dy­ing!’ and laughed.”

In the days pre­ced­ing the at­tack, La­houaiej Bouh­lel had sent cryp­tic text mes­sages to var­i­ous friends and ac­quain­tances, in­clud­ing Ghraieb. On July 5, La­houaiej Bouh­lel re­served a small mov­ing truck from a rental agency called ADA; that morn­ing,

he sent Ghraieb a mes­sage that read, “To­wards ADA.” (He later can­celed the ADA rental.) Two days later, La­houaiej Bouh­lel ap­pears to have sent Ghraieb two more text mes­sages, read­ing “” and “15.8.” The first was ap­par­ently a gar­bled ref­er­ence to July 14; the sec­ond seemed to re­fer to Au­gust 15, the date of another ma­jor pub­lic party on the Prom­e­nade.

The po­lice also ques­tioned Ghraieb about two text mes­sages sent from his phone to La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s on Jan­uary 10, 2015. Char­lie Hebdo had been at­tacked three days be­fore. “I’m not Char­lie … may God do even worse to them.” The sec­ond mes­sage read: “Oh yes com­rade, th­ese peo­ple who in­sult our dear prophet are devils, and see how God sent sol­diers of Al­lah to fin­ish them off!!”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded that the “Chokri” men­tioned in La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s fi­nal mes­sage was likely Chokri Chafroud. Like Ghraieb, Chafroud had re­ceived a mes­sage from La­houaiej Bouh­lel men­tion­ing “ADA.” There were nu­mer­ous other strange mes­sages. On the morn­ing of July 13, La­houaiej Bouh­lel wrote, “I found you hous­ing with a guy,” and later that day, “All set.” On July 14, two hours be­fore the killings, he wrote, “I’m on the Prom, come, I’ll give you... It’s for...159.” Af­ter his ar­rest, Chafroud told po­lice he hadn’t un­der­stood the mes­sages and did not re­spond.

Ini­tially, he claimed La­houaiej Bouh­lel was sim­ply an “ac­quain­tance.” When con­fronted with ev­i­dence— among other things, a pic­ture of Chafroud was the back­ground im­age on La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s phone—he ad­mit­ted that he had lied. “But I didn’t know any­thing about his plans,” he

said. In April, Chafroud had sent La­houaiej Bouh­lel a Face­book mes­sage that seemed to pre­fig­ure the at­tack. “Load the truck,” it read. “Put 2,000 tonnes of iron in it … cut the brakes my friend, and I watch.” Chafroud ad­mit­ted to hav­ing writ­ten the mes­sage but could pro­vide no cred­i­ble ex­pla­na­tion as to why. “I can’t deny hav­ing said this,” he said, “but I didn’t want him to kill any­one, and I didn’t think he’d do what he did.”

On July 21, Molins, the pros­e­cu­tor, an­nounced the in­dict­ment of Ghraieb, Chafroud, Ramzi Arefa, and two Al­ba­ni­ans who had al­legedly pro­vided the gun used by La­houaiej Bouh­lel; ter­ror charges were brought against all five. Molins noted in par­tic­u­lar a pho­to­graph on La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s tele­phone taken five and a half hours be­fore the at­tack. The pho­to­graph showed a sheet of paper list­ing ten hand­writ­ten tele­phone num­bers, three of them grouped with the name “Ramzi,” Molins an­nounced, and five with the name “Chokri.”

The paper sketched the struc­ture of an ap­par­ent crim­i­nal con­spir­acy; sev­eral sim­i­lar sheets of paper were found at La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s apart­ment, bear­ing fur­ther groups of names, num­bers, and ad­dresses.

It seemed the mirac­u­lous good for­tune of the po­lice that all of this ev­i­dence had fallen into their hands. La­houaiej Bouh­lel had made lit­tle ef­fort to pro­tect his al­leged co-con­spir­a­tors; on the con­trary, he ef­fec­tively de­liv­ered them to the au­thor­i­ties.

In po­lice cus­tody, the men be­gan to won­der aloud if La­houaiej Bouh­lel had sought to frame them. “From the out­set, I’ve been say­ing I’m a vic­tim here,” Ghraieb said. Arefa cried and banged his head against the wall. Chafroud said, “I think some­thing was wrong with [La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s] head and he in­serted me into all of this.” La­houaiej Bouh­lel had taken pho­to­graphs of another man, Hamdi Za­gar, in front of the white truck. “I didn’t un­der­stand why he wanted pic­tures of me,” Za­gar told in­ves­ti­ga­tors. “Af­ter­wards, I un­der­stood that he wanted to frame me.” Za­gar was charged sev­eral days af­ter the oth­ers.

TO SUG­GEST THAT the at­tack in Nice may have been born of an im­pulse more am­bigu­ous than fa­nat­i­cal be­lief is not to di­min­ish the threat that ji­hadism poses to France. Only days af­ter the Nice at­tack, two 19-year-olds burst into a church in Nor­mandy dur­ing morn­ing Mass, slit the throat of an 85-year-old priest, and shouted “Al­lahu Ak­bar” as they left. The fol­low­ing day, the Is­lamic State re­leased a video that the young men had recorded be­fore their at­tack, in which they pledged al­le­giance to the caliphate.

The au­thor­i­ties might rea­son­ably have ex­pected to dis­cover that La­houaiej Bouh­lel had recorded a sim­i­lar video. In­stead, the most no­table doc­u­ments La­houaiej Bouh­lel left be­hind were those that me­thod­i­cally im­pli-

cated var­i­ous friends and ac­quain­tances as his co-con­spir­a­tors. “There is noth­ing, at this stage of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, that shows a link to Syria,” a spokes­woman for François Molins said in an in­ter­view. As of Novem­ber, she said, in­ves­ti­ga­tors had yet to de­velop a “de­fin­i­tive the­ory” of the crime.

Yet from the be­gin­ning, French politi­cians have fash­ioned their as­sump­tions about La­houaiej Bouh­lel into pro­nounce­ments of fact. “They’re at war with us, and we’re at war with the ter­ror­ists,” Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls de­clared on July 15. “Why are they at­tack­ing France?” he asked. “Be­cause it’s the coun­try of hu­man rights, of lib­erté, of égal­ité, of fra­ter­nité.”

Per­haps the gov­ern­ment’s bom­bast con­soled the pop­u­lace, sug­gest­ing that the 86 dead were not the vic­tims of a crime with­out dis­cernible mean­ing but, rather, mar­tyrs in a strug­gle for good. Yet there is dan­ger in this rhetoric, too. To en­dorse the no­tion of civ­i­liza­tional clash is to ac­cept the premise upon which the Is­lamic State is fight­ing, le­git­i­mat­ing the ab­surd claim that the group poses an ex­is­ten­tial threat to France and the West.

In the mean­time, it is quite prob­a­ble that the most con­struc­tive coun­tert­er­ror pol­icy to come out of La­houaiej Bouh­lel’s at­tack had noth­ing at all to do with France’s in­ter­na­tional stature, or with ji­hadism, or even with the po­lice and the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices. In time for the fes­tiv­i­ties this sum­mer, the city of Nice will have com­pleted the in­stal­la­tion of a guardrail along the length of the Prom­e­nade and bol­lards across the side­walk, un­ob­tru­sive but sturdy enough to stop a truck.

Edi­tor’s Note: The at­tack left 86 dead and 458 wounded. By last spring, au­thor­i­ties still had not es­tab­lished a link be­tween Mo­hamed La­houaiej Bouh­lel and the Is­lamic State. Un­cer­tain­ties re­mained, es­pe­cially con­cern­ing the Amaq com­mu­niqué. Mo­hamed Oualid Ghraieb, Chokri Chafroud, Ramzi Arefa and Hamdi Za­gar all re­main in pre-trial de­ten­tion on charges of as­so­ci­a­tion de mal­fai­teurs ter­ror­iste (charges in con­nec­tion with the at­tack). New ar­rests in De­cem­ber 2016 net­ted three ad­di­tional per­sons sus­pected of hav­ing played a role in sup­ply­ing the weapon.

This is one of the self­ies La­houaiej Bouh­lel took in the days be­fore the July 14 at­tack.

French po­lice and foren­sic of­fi­cers in­ves­ti­gate and mark ev­i­dence near the crum­pled front end of the truck.

In the days fol­low­ing the at­tack, res­i­dents were drawn to a makeshift me­mo­rial on the Prom­e­nade.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.