Attacker in Nice Had Support of Several People, Police Say

William Horobin and Inti Landauro, Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2016

The man who killed 84 people in Nice on Bastille Day appeared to be planning the attack since last year and had the help of several people, France’s top antiterror prosecutor said Thursday.

Investigative magistrates on Thursday were interrogating five people suspected of providing support to 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, said Paris Prosecutor François Molins, who laid out a timeline suggesting the attacker and his suspected accomplices had embraced Islamic extremism as early as the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of last year.

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The new evidence appears to contradict claims made by top French officials immediately after the rampage that Lahouaiej Bouhlel was radicalized in a matter of weeks, leaving security services little chance of stopping him when he plowed through throngs of revelers on Bastille Day with a 21-ton truck.

Instead, Mr. Molins suggested Lahouaiej Bouhlel may have conducted surveillance on his target a year before he acted and communicated more than a thousand times with suspected accomplices.

“Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel appears to have considered and developed his criminal plot many months before he acted,” Mr. Molins said.

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As the phrase “I am Charlie” emerged across the world as an expression of solidarity with the victims [of the Charlie Hebdo massacre], one of the suspects now in custody wrote Lahouaiej Bouhlel a text message: “I am not Charlie…I am happy. They have sent the soldiers of Allah to finish the job.”

On May 25, 2015, Lahouaiej Bouhlel saved a photo on his phone of a news article about captagon, a stimulant widely used by jihadists in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Molins said.

On July 14, 2015, a year before the attack, Lahouaiej Bouhlel photographed the Bastille Day fireworks celebration. Later in July and in August, he took photos of large public gatherings on the Nice promenade, focusing on the crowds, Mr. Molins said.

In January, he saved an article about a driver who drove his car onto the terrace of a restaurant along the Nice promenade.

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Mr. Molins said neither Lahouaiej Bouhlel nor any of the five suspected accomplices were known to French intelligence services as terror threats. {snip}

In the days before the attack, all five suspects were in touch with Lahouaiej Bouhlel. Investigators discovered photos of one suspect posing in the truck Lahouaiej Bouhlel used for his rampages; they found the fingerprints of another on the inside of the truck.

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The two people detained Sunday are Albanian nationals believed to have supplied the pistol Lahouaiej Bouhlel used to shoot at police as he drove the truck through throngs of people gathered on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais.

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