by Carina Hennessy, Contributing Writer
On the evening of July 14, crowds had gathered on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France to watch the Bastille Day fireworks. The road was closed that day for the celebrations.
Just after the fireworks ended, a large cargo truck broke into the Promenade and drove down walkways and through the crowds, hitting dozens of civilians.
The truck drove about two kilometers but was then slowed down by at least two different citizens as they attempted to jump into the cab and physically stop the driver. He was finally shot and killed by two national police officers.
The driver, who had firearms in the truck along with his phone and wallet, was identified as 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian-born Nice resident.
The attack injured over 400 people, leaving 25 of those injured on life support the following day; 84 were killed at the scene, including 39 French nationals and 45 nationals of various other countries.
Two of the victims on life support died within weeks after the attack, raising the death toll to 86. An estimated third of those 86 victims were Muslim.
While Islamic extremism was one of the first possible causes up for discussion, the lead prosecutor in the ongoing investigation, François Molins, and Bouhlel’s father, Mohamed Mondher Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, told French media that the younger Bouhlel didn’t show any interest in religion or even follow any traditional Muslim practices for the majority of his life.
However, Bouhlel’s actions changed rapidly a few months before the attack, when Molins says the man had “a clear, recent interest in the radical Jihadist movement.”
Officials claim there is evidence in his cell phone and phone records that Bouhlel had made prominent terrorist connections, possibly including with members of the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) and some extremists in the Nice area.
As the investigation is still ongoing, many names and details haven’t yet been released, and the extent of Bouhlel’s connections to organized extremist groups isn’t completely known. In the days after the attack, six people were arrested under suspicion of helping Bouhlel with the attack, including his ex-wife.
While his ex-wife was released two days after her arrest, on that same day, July 17th, an Albanian man and woman were arrested following evidence that they had supplied Bouhlel with the firearm he used in the attack.
On July 21, Molins confirmed that five of the arrested, including the two Albanians, will be facing charges as accomplices in the premeditated terror attack. After last year’s attacks in France, such as the raid on the Charlie Hebdo office, French President François Hollande had declared a state of emergency in France.
He extended France’s state of emergency status and initiated their country-wide disaster emergency plan, ORSEC, the morning after the attack. Hollande also stated that “all of France is being menaced by fundamentalist Islamic terrorism,” and that they will strengthen their military efforts against IS in Iraq and Syria, including deploying more French troops.
The cautionary actions weren’t restricted to France, either, considering the high number of foreign nationals affected and the global reach of extremism.
Facebook turned on their Safety Check feature to help people keep track of their loved ones, and major cities such as New York tightened security in high-traffic areas in case of similar planned attacks.