PARIS – Authorities investigating the truck driver who killed 84 people in a Bastille Day attack painted a complex picture Monday of a man who did not seem devout but had recently become interested in jihadi violence and researched past attacks in France and the United States, including one on a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, who oversees terrorism investigations, said by all accounts Mohamed Lahouaiyej Bouhlel drank, ate pork and had an “unbridled sex life.” But his computer and phone showed online searches relating to IS and other jihadi groups.
“A search of his computer illustrates a clear ... and recent interest in radical jihadism,” Molins said, adding that Bouhlel had recently grown a beard and told people it was for religious reasons. While officials have said the attack was obviously premeditated, they have not found any evidence that Bouhlel had coordinated with an extremist network.
Internet searches on Bouhlel’s computer included Islamic propaganda chants, the terms “horrible deadly accidents,” and the recent attacks against the gay nightclub in Orlando, police officers in Dallas, and the killing of two police officials in Magnanville, outside of Paris.
One witness told authorities that Bouhlel seemed accustomed to looking at decapitation videos, Molins said.
As investigators continue to look into the attacker’s motives, his uncle in Tunisia, Sadok Bouhlel, told The Associated Press his nephew had been indoctrinated about two weeks ago by an Algerian member of the Islamic State group in Nice. He said Bouhlel’s family problems – he was estranged from his wife and three children – made him easy prey for the Algerian recruiter.
“Mohamed didn’t pray, didn’t go to the mosque and ate pork,” said the uncle, 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.
French officials couldn’t confirm Monday that Bouhlel had been approached by an Algerian recruiter, saying that the investigation is ongoing.
The July 14 carnage in the southern city of Nice has shaken and angered a country still reeling from the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people at a concert hall, restaurants and cafes, and the national stadium, and a separate January 2015 Paris attack that targeted journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and Jews at a kosher supermarket.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls was loudly booed as he came and went from a memorial ceremony on the Nice shore, amid widespread criticism of security failures. Valls said later that the boos “do not touch me,” but he called them undignified and divisive.
Feelings are raw. Many of the dead and injured were children watching a fireworks display with their families, and a sign posted around town demonstrates a strong feeling of solidarity, calling for blood donations and stuffed animals for injured children.
But on the city’s famed Promenade des Anglais, passers-by piled garbage on the bloodstained spot where Bouhlel was killed. At least one man was seen spitting on it, while another urinated on the pile to general applause.
At the Pasteur hospital, where many injured are being treated, emergency responders and other medical personnel gathered in the courtyard for the countrywide moment of silence, standing still in a row and clapping when it was over.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 59 people were still hospitalized after Thursday’s attack, 29 of them in intensive care, out of 308 people injured overall.
Officials have begun returning remains to the families, though 13 of the 84 who died have yet to be identified, the prosecutor said.
U.S. Ambassador Jane D. Hartley was in Nice on Monday, where she visited an injured American and met with American families who had lost loved ones.
“I also wanted to show my support for France at the moment of silence today because the U.S. and France are in this together in this terrible fight against terrorism,” Hartley told The Associated Press as she arrived at the Nice city hall to meet mayor Philippe Pradal.
Hartley said to her knowledge there were no Americans among the missing anymore.
Six people are in custody in the probe into the attack, including one who Bouhlel sent a text message to minutes before the attack, asking for more weapons, Molins said. He also took selfies in his truck in the hours before he plowed through the festive crowd.
Three of the six suspects were brought to French intelligence headquarters in Paris on Monday to face eventual terrorism charges, according to a security official.
Investigators found 11 telephones, cocaine and 2,600 euros ($2,900) in cash at the home of one of the suspects, an Albanian national, according to a security official and the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Meanwhile, Italy is investigating whether Bouhlel recently had contacts with Tunisians living in the southeastern Puglia region, according to news agency ANSA. Officials in Italy didn’t immediately respond to requests for confirmation.
Italian state TV, reporting from France, said Monday evening that one of the seven detained in Nice had at one point been hosted by two Tunisians living in the town of Gravina in Puglia.
Frank Jordans reported from Nice, France. Bouazza Ben Bouazza in Msaken, Tunisia; Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Colleen Barry in Nice, France; and Angela Charlton and Maria Cheng in Paris contributed to this report.