By those who knew him, Nice, France, terror attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was described as an eclectic, unassuming loner. However, no one thought him capable of the callous destruction he brought upon the world Thursday night. With a wayward stare and few words for neighbors, many perceived the 31-year-old as “odd,” but few pegged him as overtly suspicious.
Even one unnamed resident of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s former apartment complex stated her neighbor was compassionate and helpful, often repairing the woman’s broken appliances. Bouhlel’s friend said she felt shocked he could commit such a terrifying act.
Others familiar with Bouhlel said he would regularly walk or ride his bicycle to a nearby cafe for coffee.
Outward appearances notwithstanding, Friday, French police named Mohamed Bouhlel as the man behind one of the most heinous lone-wolf terrorist attacks in history. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel left 84 dead and hundreds injured when he drove and shot his way through a mile-long stretch of Bastille Day celebrators in Nice, France.
Born January 3, 1985, in Tunisia, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s personal life seemed shaky as he was estranged from his three children and former wife. This estrangement caused severe depression in Bouhlel, as acquaintances described him as increasingly moody and erratic. Local authorities classified Bouhlel as a petty criminal following a spate of arrests for violent offenses.
According to documents, Mohamed Bouhlel was apprehended in January on weapons charges. Though Bouhlel was sentenced to six months in jail, his judge suspended the ruling. Bouhlel was convicted of attacking a motorist with an improvised wooden weapon. To avoid incarceration he contacted police once-weekly via phone.
State files show the infamous truck driver held a permit to live and work in France. His job was that of a truck delivery man, although the truck used in the Bastille Day attacks was a rental. Authorities state Bouhlel used a 19-ton refrigerated lorry to carry out his act of terror. The Tunisian acquired this vehicle July 11 in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, just west of Nice, France.
Though Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had a criminal record, he was a complete unknown to French intelligence services. The delivery truck driver had no recognized affiliations with terrorist groups, and was described as non-religious.
Some of the apartment residents who frequently interacted with Bouhlel had these comments regarding his behavior.
“He was rude and a bit weird. We would hold the door open for him and he would just blank us. He kept himself to himself, but would always rant about his wife. He had marital problems and would tell people in the local cafe. He scared my children though. He was very smart with a George Clooney haircut.”
“I hardly knew him, but from what I could see he seemed very strange. He lived alone. He said very little to anyone and wasn’t very polite. He wouldn’t hold the door open for you,” another female neighbor said of Bouhlel.
Regarding the attacker’s apparent lack of radical views, BFM TV stated that “He (Bouhlel) was more into women than religion. He didn’t pray and liked girls and salsa.”
Unfortunately, neither a lack of radical beliefs or extremist ties prevented the mayhem Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel brought upon France. The “loner” and “depressed” ex-family man, experiencing financial difficulties, brazenly took the lives of 84 Bastille Day celebrators, whilst injuring scores of others.
One Egyptian onlooker described the carnage of the Bastille day attacks as follows, per BBC News.
“I kept yelling at him, waving with my hands to stop and trying to tell him that there is a lot of people under his truck — dead already. But he did not give any attention to anyone outside the truck. And suddenly I saw him picking up something like a cellphone. I thought he would call an ambulance for the accident but it seemed that I was wrong, because he just picked up his gun and he started to shoot the police.”
Though Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel apparently was an ordinary citizen experiencing familiar problems, the carnage and chaos he brought an already reeling France will prompt further questions as to who he was.
[Photo by Thiabault Camus/AP Photos]