NICE, France: The driver of a truck who killed scores of people on the Nice seafront was a Tunisian petty criminal described by his father as a violent depressive and by neighbors as a loner who showed no outward sign of being a devout Muslim.
Investigators were on Friday piecing together a picture of the 31-year-old father of three who slammed into crowds who had been watching a Bastille Day fireworks display, killing 84 people including 10 children and adolescents.
Anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins identified him as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, “a delivery man, of Tunisian nationality, married and with children” adding that he had a criminal record but no known terrorist connection.
His identity papers and a bank card were found in the truck and his identity had been confirmed by fingerprints, he said.
Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was shot dead by police at the wheel of the 19-tonne lorry.
Speaking outside his home in Msaken, eastern Tunisia, the attacker’s father said he had suffered from depression and had “no links” to religion.
“From 2002 to 2004, he had problems that caused a nervous breakdown. He would become angry and he shouted… he would break anything he saw in front of him,” Mohamed Mondher Lahouaiej-Bouhlel said.
“We are also shocked,” he said, adding that he had not seen his son since he left for France but was not entirely sure when this was.
And as forensic scientists, backed by armed police, searched his apartment in a four-story block in a working-class neighborhood of Nice, neighbors told Agence France-Presse they had little to do with him.
They portrayed him as a solitary figure who rarely spoke and did not even return greetings when their paths crossed.
Sebastien, a neighbor who spoke on condition that his full name was not used, said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel did not seem overtly religious and often dressed in shorts.
Only one neighbor said she had any concerns about him, describing him as “a good-looking man who kept giving my two daughters the eye.”
‘Never attended mosque’
Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was often seen drinking beer and never attended the small mosque near his home, other residents of his home district told AFP.
“I never saw him at the mosque,” said the caretaker of an apartment building as he sat in a restaurant next to the mosque, who asked not to be named. Three bearded Muslims with him agreed — they had never seen the man at the mosque either.
Prosecutor Molins said that although Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had never been investigated by the security services, he was known to police.
“He had a police and judicial record for threats, violence, theft and acts of criminal damage between 2010 and 2016, and had been sentenced by the Nice criminal court to a six-month term, suspended, on March 24 2016 for violence with arms, committed in January 2016.
“On the other hand, he was totally unknown to intelligence services, nationally and locally, and was never flagged for signs of radicalization,” he added.
Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s wife was brought in for questioning on Friday morning, Molins said.
Neighbors said the couple had three children, including a baby, but were separated.
One resident of the apartment block where the family had lived until 18 months ago before they split up said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was a violent man who had an extreme reaction to his wife’s request for a divorce.
“His wife had asked for a divorce after a violent argument,” said the man, who also asked not to be identified.
“He defecated everywhere, he cut up his daughter’s teddy bear and slashed the mattress. I don’t think there was a radicalization issue, I think there was psychiatric problem,” he added.
President Francois Hollande has declared the attack was of “an undeniable terrorist nature.” AFP