There are “elements which may suggest that he tried to put his entourage in trouble”, advanced the police officer of the anti-terrorist sub-directorate (Sdat).
Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian from Nice, killed 86 and injured more than 400 while driving a ram truck on the Promenade des Anglais before being shot dead by the police.
For a week, the special assize court of Paris tries to identify his personality and his motivations.
No complicity was established during the investigation, but three of the eight defendants at trial, members of his entourage, were dismissed for association of terrorist criminals (AMT).
They were quickly implicated after the discovery on the assailant of an unlocked mobile phone, displaying a text message sent a few minutes before the attack. This message mentioned the name of two of them: “Salam Ramzi (Arefa) (…) the gun you gave me yesterday, it’s very good. So bring five “extras”, it’s for Chokri (Chafroud) and his friends”.
An almost identical voice note, sent a few hours earlier, specified “Chokri and his friends are ready for next month, now they are at Walid”, the middle name of Mohamed Ghraieb, the third accused returned for AMT.
In addition, at Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s, 39 photo prints from photos taken with his phone were found, showing him in the company of other people at the beach or at the café, sometimes annotated with first names.
There is also a sheet with a handwritten list of names and phone numbers.
– “Fascinated by violence” –
– “Do you think it was an error on his part, panic, or a desire to manipulate?” Asks the president of the court, Laurent Raviot.
– “Certainly not panic”, replies the investigator, who recalls that the assailant has long prepared and matured his criminal act.
At the invitation of a defense lawyer, he acknowledges that “this is the first time that (he has) dealt” with this type of element in a terrorist case, an area generally marked by the desire for “concealment “protagonists.
“We have no objective elements that allow us to understand why he did this. I think there is a desire on his part to find the people in question,” he says.
“I do not have a definitive hypothesis with supporting evidence. The analysis of these elements will be made by the court”, he specifies however.
Previously, the anti-terrorist policeman had painted a portrait of a “sex-obsessed” Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, “fascinated by violence”, including that of the propaganda of the Islamic State (IS) organization, but in whom ” the desire to do harm” precedes any jihadist convictions.
On his profile, the investigator recalls the testimonies of his ex-wife evoking “almost daily” domestic violence or his sentence in March 2016 to six months in prison, suspended for hitting a man in the head while he was unloading a delivery.
In December 2014, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel deplored in a text message to his wife the death of the author of the attack on the Joué-les-Tours police station, and he consulted IS propaganda photos in March 2015, after the attack at the Bardo Museum, near Tunis.
But “there is, I think, an adherence to the violence of the actions committed (by terrorist groups), without there necessarily being a religious aspect which is significant”, analyzes the policeman.
On the other hand, “what lets us say that there has been a radicalization in recent weeks is the exponential nature of the consultations” from the end of June 2016, with numerous searches concerning a religious song often used in the demands jihadists.
His friends also reported what the investigator called “weak signals of religiosity” in the weeks before the attack. To one, he reproached for drinking alcohol, to another, he entrusted to do Ramadan and offered to go to the mosque, a third noticed that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was listening to the Koran in his car and was criticized for “his shorts being too short”.
The Nice attack was claimed by IS two days later, but the investigation did not establish a direct link between the assailant and the jihadist group.