The uncle of the truck driver who killed 84 people on the French Riviera says his nephew was indoctrinated about two weeks ago by an Algerian member of the Islamic State group (I.S.) in Nice.
French officials could not confirm Monday that attacker Mohamed Lahouaiyej Bouhlel had been approached by an Algerian recruiter, saying that the investigation is ongoing.
I.S. claimed responsibility for last week’s attack, though Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday that investigators have found no sign yet that Bouhlel had links to a particular network.
The driver’s uncle, Sadok Bouhlel, said that given Bouhlel’s family problems — he was estranged from his wife and three children — the Algerian “found in Mohamed an easy prey for recruitment.”
Bouhlel’s rapid radicalization has puzzled investigators. Friends and family said he had not been an observant Muslim in the past. Cazeneuve said Monday on RTL radio that the driver may have been motivated by I.S. messages but not necessarily coordinating with a larger network.
“Mohamed didn’t pray, didn’t go to the mosque and ate pork,” said Sadok Bouhlel, a 69-year-old retired teacher, in the driver’s hometown of Msaken, Tunisia. The uncle said he learned about the Algerian recruiter from extended family members who live in Nice.
Sadok is devastated by his nephew’s act, and doesn’t want him buried in Msaken. “He made more than 80 families grieve, and stained the reputation of our town and our country.”
Many of the dead and injured were children watching a fireworks display with their families. Cazeneuve said 59 people are still hospitalized after the attack Thursday, 29 of them in intensive care, out of 308 people injured overall.
France held a moment of silence Monday to remember the victims. Thousands of people massed on the waterfront promenade where the Bastille Day celebrations became a killing field on Thursday night.
Among the mourners was Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who was loudly booed as he arrived at and left the ceremony in Nice.
President François Hollande’s Socialist administration has come under blistering criticism from opposition conservatives after last week’s deadly attack. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy accused the government of bad policies that he says failed to prevent three major attacks in the past 18 months.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve hit back Monday, listing a series of laws and extra police forces created under Hollande’s presidency “to face a threat that France was not prepared for” when he took over from Sarkozy in 2012.
After a special security meeting, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French forces in the U.S-led coalition struck I.S. targets again overnight and on Sagturday. French warplanes have been involved in the operation in Iraq and to a lesser degree in Syria.