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Sunday 25 September 2016

Terrorist sent laughing selfie with crowd just before massacre

Distraught mourners leave flowers for the terror attack victims
Distraught mourners leave flowers for the terror attack victims
A man looks at flowers left on the promenade in Nice
Mohamed Lahaouaiej Bouhlel
Jaber, the brother of 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel

The Tunisian man who killed at least 84 people in France by mowing down Bastille Day revellers with a lorry had phoned his brother hours earlier and sent a picture of himself laughing as he mingled with the crowd, the brother said.

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old delivery driver, was shot dead by police on Thursday night after careering along a packed sea-front promenade in Nice for about 2km, zigzagging in order to run over as many victims as possible.

The Bastille Day carnage wrought by 0Bouhlel on the seafront claimed the lives of at least 84 people and wounded 202, including many tourists from other countries.

About 85 people remain hospitalised, and of those, 18 including a child were still in life-threatening condition, French Health Minister Marisol Touraine said.

The Paris prosecutor's office said only 35 bodies have been identified so far, carried out by specialists with a judicial official present. That left 49 bodies still without identification. Touraine also said one of the hospitalised wounded still has not been identified.

A man and a woman were detained yesterday in Nice, according to an official.

One of the men arrested is suspeted to have supplied arms to the killer, who sent a chilling text message demanding weapons minutes before the seafront massacre.

The 37-year-old is thought to have been sent a message from the mobile phone of Mohamed Lahaouaiej Bouhlel 18 minutes before the attack.

It read: "Bring more weapons, bring five of them to C."

The attacker's brother Jabeur told Reuters in Tunisia that Mohamed had called him for a final time on Thursday afternoon and sent a picture of himself among the crowds in the southern French city.

Unclear

"That last day he said he was in Nice with his European friends to celebrate the national holiday," Jabeur said, adding that in the photo "he seemed very happy and pleased, he was laughing a lot".

He declined to share the photograph. Mohamed Bouhlel's motive remains unclear.

France's prime minister said that the attack, which was claimed by Islamic State, was Islamist in nature and that Bouhlel had radicalised "very quickly".

Relatives and former neighbours in Msaken, about 120km south of Tunis, said Bouhlel had moved to France in 2005 and had last visited four years ago. They described him as sporty, uninterested in religion and from a normal family.

Family members said Bouhlel had begun calling them frequently in recent weeks.

"He asked for news about our parents ... he always spoke to me, we were very close," he added. "He sent us small sums of money recently, sometimes €300 or €400, and mobile telephones."

Bouhlel's sister has said he was treated for psychological issues for years.

A psychiatrist who treated him more than a decade ago said that he had been aggressive towards his parents and had body image problems. The psychiatrist, Chemceddine Hamouda, said Bouhlel's parents brought him to his clinic in Msaken in August 2004.

After excelling academically, Bouhlel had drifted away from school, Hamouda said.

"He had problems with his body," said Hamouda. "He said: 'Why am I thin?'

Meanwhile, French authorities detained two more people last night and released the estranged wife of the slain Nice truck attacker from custody as they tried to determine whether he had been an Islamic extremist or just a very angry man.

Bouhlel's estranged wife is the mother of Bouhlel's three children and was in the process of divorcing him. In total, six people now remain in custody relating to the truck attack.

IS said he was following their call to target citizens of countries fighting the extremists.

Radicalised

Neighbours described the attacker as volatile, prone to drinking and womanising. His father, in Tunisia, said his son did not pray or fast for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

But French authorities believe that something may have changed. Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that authorities "now know that the killer radicalised very quickly".

"(IS) is encouraging individuals unknown to our services to stage attacks ... that is without a doubt the case in the Nice attack," he said.

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