Wednesday 21 March 2018

Police quiz man suspected of supplying gun to truck killer

Seven in custody as investigators reveal Bouhlel sent €100k to family in Tunisia

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel Picture: Kapitalis via AP
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel Picture: Kapitalis via AP
Jabeur, the brother of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel Picture: Getty
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel

David Chazan and Tom Morgan

A man was arrested in Nice yesterday on suspicion of supplying arms to the Bastille Day killer, who sent a chilling text message demanding weapons minutes before the seafront massacre.

The 37-year-old man is thought to have been the recipient of the message sent from the mobile phone of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel 18 minutes before he ploughed a 19-tonne lorry into holiday crowds, killing 84 people.

It read: "Bring more weapons, bring five of them to C."

More than 200 investigators were urgently working to determine the significance of "C" and whether the killer had accomplices or links with a terrorist network.

Seven people, including a woman, were in custody last night after the arrests earlier in the day of an Albanian couple suspected of aiding Bouhlel, described by Isil as one of its "soldiers".

Bouhlel sent a flurry of texts shortly before the attack. One saying "I've got the material" was sent to one of the men in custody, whose identities have not been made public.

The killer fired a 7.65mm automatic handgun at police before they shot him dead on Thursday night. Other weapons in the lorry were fakes or replicas.

Read More: In their own chilling words - eyewitnesses recount the horror of Bastille Day massacre

CCTV cameras on the Promenade des Anglais, the scene of the massacre, captured Bouhlel twice in the two days before the attack driving the lorry as he scrutinised his surroundings, apparently preparing before the attack.

He sold his car and emptied his bank account and reportedly sent up to €100,000 to relations in Tunisia - a huge amount for a man who had worked as a low-paid delivery driver.

Bouhlel's brother, Jabeur, said in Tunisia that the killer sent him a selfie taken among the crowds on the Promenade des Anglais, showing him smiling, just hours before the attack.

Jabeur claimed his brother had phoned him around the same time. "He said he was in Nice with his European friends to celebrate the national holiday," Jabeur said.

"He seemed very happy and pleased. He was laughing a lot." However, Jabeur declined to show the photograph.

The image of a man cold-bloodedly planning an act of carnage that targeted happy families contrasted with earlier descriptions of him as mentally unstable and prone to violent fits of rage.

He is said to have frequently beaten his wife, and after she left him shredded his daughter's teddy bear with a knife.

His estranged wife, the mother of his three children, was released from custody yesterday.

She was not a suspect but was questioned about Bouhlel's possible links with Islamist extremism.

One of those arrested told investigators that the 31-year-old Tunisian, who settled in France at the age of 20, had become suddenly radicalised in the weeks before the massacre.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former conservative president, accused the government of complacency. "Everything that should have been done in the past 18 months hasn't been done," he said.

As right-wing opposition groups joined criticism of security policy, the prime minister, Manuel Valls, warned that new attacks were inevitable.

"There is an ongoing war, there will be more attacks. It's difficult to say this, but other lives will be lost," he said.

Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, called for young volunteers to join the security services as reservists, promising to "strengthen security throughout the national territory".

After the carnage in Nice, 12,000 reservists were called up.

VIDEO: 'I remember seeing bodies flying everywhere' - Galway barman describes Nice massacre

Mr Cazeneuve pointed out that the attack was unlike previous ones such as the assault on the office of the 'Charlie Hebdo' magazine and the November attacks in Paris.

"There were no heavy weapons or explosives used," he said.

"We are confronted by individuals who, vulnerable to messages (from Isil), carry out extremely violent acts without necessarily having taken part in combat or received training."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that French authorities withdrew police vans blocking off the promenade in Nice just hours before the devastating attack.

Despite 30,000 people having gathered on the Promenade des Anglais, just 60 officers were on duty.

Four police vans that had blocked off the Promenade des Anglais to protect a military parade earlier in the day had been removed before the attack on Thursday, according to eyewitnesses.

Eighty-five of those injured remain in hospital and 18, including a child, were fighting for their lives last night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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