Janet Shamlian, NBC News, July 15, 2016
The truck driver killed by police after mowing down dozens of revelers in the French seaside city of Nice had a “violent” past, but was not previously the subject of a terrorism investigation, French prosecutors said Friday.
Officials at a news conference described what they knew about the suspect while confirming that at least 84 people were killed–including 10 children–while 202 others were wounded. Of the 52 people in critical condition, 25 remained on life support, said French prosecutor Francois Molins.
The 31-year-old driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, had been detained in March and convicted of voluntary violence with a weapon, although the details of his arrest were not immediately released.
Prosecutors said he was also known to police “due to threats, violence and petty theft” between 2010 and 2016.
But it was unclear whether Bouhlel, a Tunisian-born delivery man and married father living in Nice, had any ties to terrorist groups.
Bouhlel had used a bike to get to a refrigerator truck rental company before setting off on his rampage around 10:45 p.m. local time, prosecutors said. He barreled the truck down a packed street in the coastal city for just over a mile, as crowds were gathered for Bastille Day.
The celebrations were transformed into scenes of chaos and carnage after the white vehicle careened down the packed promenade, creating a trail of death and destruction.
People were knocked down and thrown about like bowling pins and blood stained the pavement. Sirens and screams filled the air.
Amid the pandemonium, Bouhlel shot at three officers who confronted him in his truck near a hotel. He continued to drive for several hundred feet before exchanging gunfire with police, officials said.
When the hail of bullets subsided, they “eventually found the driver dead in the passenger seat,” Molins said.
Bouhlel’s bicycle was discovered inside the truck and an automatic handgun and a magazine and cartridges were located inside the cabin–along with a fake Kalashnikov, a fake M-16, a malfunctioning grenade, a map and a phone. An identity card and credit card were also retrieved.
Earlier Friday, Hollande declared three days of national mourning and flew to Nice immediately after chairing an emergency meeting of the security and defense council.
“Terrorism is a threat that weighs heavily upon France and will continue to weigh for a long time,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after the emergency meeting. “We are facing a war that terrorism has brought to us.”
France has been under a state of emergency since a deadly spree of terror attacks in Paris in November.
It was due to be lifted on July 26–but those plans were put on hold in wake of the slaughter in Nice.
Two Americans–a father and his 11-year-old son–were among the victims.
[Editor’s Note: The video below is of the graphic aftermath of the attack. Watch at your discretion.]