Washington Post, by Michael Birnbaum and James McAuley, July 16, 2016:
NICE, France — The Islamic State on Saturday claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 84 in this coastal French city, the organization’s news agency said Saturday, as France’s top cop announced for the first time investigators believed the attacker had been “radicalized.”
It remains unclear whether the Islamic State directed the attack, was taking responsibility for an assault it inspired, or was simply seeking publicity from an event that it had no direct hand in.
“It seems” that the attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, “radicalized his views very rapidly, very swiftly. These are the first elements that our investigation has come up with,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Saturday, without offering further details about how investigators came to that belief.
“We are now facing individuals who are responding positively to the messages issued by the Islamic State without having had any special training and without having access to weapons that allow them to commit mass murder,” Cazeneuve said.
The Islamic-State-connected Amaq news agency, citing an “insider source,” said Bouhlel “was a soldier of the Islamic State.”
“He executed the operation in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations that fight the Islamic State,” the news agency wrote.
Separately, the Islamic State Bayan radio station said Bouhlel used “a new tactic” to wreak havoc. “The crusader countries know that no matter how much enforce their security measures and procedures it will not stop the mujahedeen from striking,” the station said.
But the oblique claim of responsibility left open the question of whether Bouhlel had acted alone or had any prior communication with the group, which has also claimed ties to the attacks that struck Paris twice last year and Brussels in March. French authorities have been scrambling to determine whether Bouhlel had a support network in Nice, where he appears to have been living for at least six years.
Investigators on Saturday detained three additional people in connection with the attack, including one person who is believed to have spoken to Bouhlel by phone minutes before he started his deadly journey down Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, and an additional man was detained late Friday, according to the office of Paris prosecutor François Molins. Authorities also detained Bouhlel’s ex-wife Friday and were questioning her.
Nice, meanwhile, was trying to return to normal Saturday by reopening the seaside Promenade des Anglais to traffic, 36 hours after Bouhlel turned it into a killing field. Beaches were also set to reopen, even as flowers and tributes piled up at a makeshift memorial near the spot where the deadly truck came to a halt. French President François Hollande convened an emergency meeting of his top security advisers to discuss the investigation.
The scale of the carnage wrought by a Bouhlel came into grim focus Friday, with 10 children among the dead and 202 people injured. Among the wounded, 50 were “between life and death,” according to French President François Hollande.
The attack with a 19-ton rented Renault truck — the third mass casualty assault to hit to France in 18 months — shocked the nation and sparked questions about whether authorities had done enough to safeguard a country that is an obvious target of terrorist groups. Many witnesses said Friday that the packed corniche had been only lightly guarded by police during fireworks on the gently warm night. Bouhlel, a truck driver, was easily able to drive around police fences blocking Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais before jamming on the accelerator and zigzagging his way through the crowds in a method that seemed calculated to generate maximum bloodshed.
The identities of the victims testified to France’s diverse society and to the international appeal of the tony French Riviera. A vacationing father and his 11-year-old son from Lakeway, Tex. A headscarf-wearing Muslim woman who came to celebrate Bastille Day with her nieces and nephews. A French high school teacher, his wife, daughter and grandson. Others from Russia, Switzerland, Germany, Australia.
There were so many victims early Friday that survivors grabbed tablecloths from seaside cafes to cover the bodies strewn across the asphalt. The dead were marked by rectangular orange and white traffic-control barriers that stood like rows of tombstones.
- Islamic State terror chief told supporters to run over ‘filthy French disbelievers’ with their cars two years before Nice attack (dailymail.co.uk)
Nice Attack Demonstrates Long-Promoted Jihadi Terror Tactic (news.siteintelgroup.com)
- Nice Attacker Emulated Methods Previously Advocated By ISIS, AQAP, And Other Jihadis, Who Called To Use Vehicles As Weapons To Run Over And ‘Mow’ People (memri.org)