French police are still trying to figure out the motivations of the Nice terrorist, and whether or not he had any connections with outside groups, like ISIS. The terrorist group has already claimed one of their soldiers carried out the attack, but French officials claim Mohamed Lahouiej-Bouhlel wasn’t known for making radical statements. French newspaper Nice-Matin did report a few ambiguous texts found on Lahouiej-Bouhlel’s cell phone, but noted there was still a lot more investigating to be done (translated via Google):
In addition to the claim of the attack by the Islamic State, the ideological mobile truck this attack that killed 84 people and injured more than 200 therefore be based on the statements of a man. For, a source close to the investigation says no “propaganda” would have been discovered at the home of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. [His] computer and phone, however, continue to be run by experts from the Anti-Terrorism Sub-Directorate of the PJ.
Reportedly, the police would follow particular track of ambiguous texts where the killer wrote possess “material”.
Europe 1 also reported Lahouiej-Bouhlel wasn’t a nice guy to begin with (again via Google Translate, so slightly cleaned up).
For investigators, these elements confirm that it is a premeditated act by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. Described as a violent man, impulsive, [by] his ex-wife and children and not attending mosques, though he had strangely stopped drinking alcohol [for] two weeks. The police anti-terrorism therefore always seek to understand how the killer was able to switch so quickly in radical Islam without arousing the attention of the intelligence services.
It’s possible he was able to slip under the radar (proving police states don’t work), and just worked fast enough to avoid detection. It’s also completely possible (and this is only speculation) he’s using ISIS as an excuse to lash out at people or to get back at his ex-wife. Nice-Matin did note someone who Lahouaiej-Bouhlel knew said he didn’t accept the divorce and “repeatedly said that his wife “was going to hear about it.”” It could be Lahouaiej-Bouhlel is doing his best imitation of John Hinkley Jr. and trying to impress his ex-wife through an act of violence. Again, this is only speculation, and part of me believes it will turn out otherwise.
Rukimini Callimachi of The New York Times thinks he was an ISIS soldier, based on language used by ISIS’ Amaq Agency:
14. In the Amaq claim released early this morning, ISIS calls the driver a "soldier of the Islamic State" pic.twitter.com/nl9kNwwpJk
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) July 16, 2016
15. That terminology, a soldier of the Islamic State, is what they use for their own operatives. Paris/Brussels attackers described as such
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) July 16, 2016
There are at least four people (maybe even six) under arrest in France in connection with the attack. Paris prosecutors told CNN an Albanian couple was arrested on Sunday, although it isn’t known how they’re connected to the attack. It could be the Albanians are the people Lahouiej-Bouhlel asked to get “material” from because of how tough French gun laws are or they have some kind of connection with ISIS. One source did tell CNN there’s at least one terror associate known to the attacker.
But after the attack, investigators ascertained that Bouhlel’s phone number had cropped up in a previous counterterrorism investigation, a source close to the investigation told CNN. That investigation focused on a radical associate of Omar Diaby, a 41-year-old Senegalese jihadi who lived in Nice before traveling to Syria.
Diaby, who calls himself Omar Omsen, commands a French jihadi battalion in Syria affiliated with al Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The source said investigators made the link after cross-referencing case files after the attack. Investigators are looking into the nature of the links between Bouhlel and Diaby’s associate and have not discounted they were simply part of same social circle.
The problem is al Nusra Front and ISIS aren’t friends with each other, and al Qaeda is apparently not a fan of indiscriminate attacks which kill Muslims. So maybe they were in the same circles and just had occasional contact with each other. We do know Lauouiej-Bouhlel did do a bit of planning before the attack. Via Europe 1:
Two [trial] sessions. Through the investigation, investigators discovered that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel has carefully prepared his attack…According to information obtained by Europe 1, he traveled twice on the Promenade des Anglais Tuesday 12 July and Wednesday 13 July, the day before and the day before the attack. On the recordings of video surveillance cameras, you can see the wheel of his truck observing the scene very carefully.
Three withdrawals of 500 euros. The survey also shows that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel-needed money in the days before the attack. According to our information, he made several withdrawals from his bank account in the last days. Three withdrawals of almost 500 euros each. He also sold his car the day before the attack.
Police aren’t saying why he withdrew the money, but maybe it was to buy the weapons or pay for the truck rental/purchase. It’s probably going to take some time to figure out where the cash went, unless French authorities catch a break in their interrogations. If Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s associates don’t have any answers, then it’ll take that much longer to find out why he became radicalized or if there were other factors. The family says he had mental issues, so maybe that’s what pushed him into ISIS’ arms.
The biggest question is where do we go from here? France has been under a state of emergency since last year’s Bataclan attack, which means a pretty big police state in the country. John Stossel wrote last year how France’s crackdown on civil liberties includes warrantless searches and placing people on house arrest if they’re suspected of being a security threat. There’s the chance even more laws will happen after this most recent attack. The same goes for America where we’ve seen the awful Orlando terrorist attack and the horrific killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Presidential candidates can talk about “law and order” all they want, but when it involves curbing civil liberties, like banning Muslims from coming into the country or trying to repress due process by keeping people on a no-fly list from buying weapons, the answer should be “no thanks”.