Two French police officials say identity papers found alongside the attacker behind a killing spree in southeastern Nice belonged to Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Frenchman of Tunisian descent with previous misdemeanor convictions but no known link to extremist groups.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Friday that the papers were those of a Nice resident. They cautioned that DNA and identity checks with acquaintances were pending to fully verify the identity.
The Paris prosecutor’s office, which is leading the investigation, declined to comment.
At least 84 people were killed and scores more injured when the attacker drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, in what President Francois Hollande called a terrorist act.
The driver also appeared to open fire before officers shot him dead.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 18 people were in critical condition after the attack Thursday night, when the white truck zigzagged along the seafront Promenade des Anglais as a fireworks display marking the French national day ended just after 10:30 p.m. local time.
According to one city official, the truck careered on for up to two km (1.5 miles). Several children were among the dead.
“People went down like ninepins,” Jacques, who runs Le Queenie restaurant on the seafront, told France Info radio.
The attack seemed so far to be the work of a lone assailant.
Hollande said in a pre-dawn address that he was calling up military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by enforcing a state of emergency begun in November after ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers struck Paris entertainment spots on a Friday evening, killing 130 people.
Only hours earlier he had announced the emergency would be lifted by the end of July. Following the attack, he said it would be extended by a further three months.
“France is filled with sadness by this new tragedy,” Hollande said. “There’s no denying the terrorist nature of this attack.”
Major events in France have been guarded by troops and armed police since the Nov. 13 attacks. But it appeared to have taken many minutes to halt the progress of the truck as it tore along pavements and a pedestrian zone.
One witness said she thought the attacker was firing a gun as he drove.
“I saw this enormous white truck go past at top speed,” said Suzy Wargniez, a local woman aged 65 who was watching from a cafe on the promenade. “It was shooting, shooting.”
A local government official said weapons and grenades were later found inside the rented vehicle.
A LONER WITH NO RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION
Neighbors Lahouaiej-Bouhlel described him Friday as a loner with no visible religious affiliation, as forensic experts searched his flat.
AFP reporters interviewed about a dozen of his neighbors, who portrayed him as a solitary figure who rarely spoke and did not even return greetings when their paths crossed in the four-story block, located in a working-class neighborhood of Nice.
Sebastien, a neighbor who spoke on condition that his full name was not used, said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel did not seem overtly religious, often dressed in shorts and sometimes wore work boots.
He had a van parked nearby and owned a bike, which he brought up into his first-floor apartment.
Of those who were interviewed, only one, a neighbor on the ground floor, said she had had any concerns about him – he was “a good-looking man who kept giving my two daughters the eye.”
Police investigators and forensic experts entered his apartment around 9:30 a.m. local time with an armed police intervention unit in support, and brought out bags of material later.