French Authorities Still Investigating Nice Attacker's Motivation
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In Nice, France this morning, police took two more people into custody for possible connections to Thursday's attack. So far, evidence indicates the man who drove a truck along a pedestrian boulevard, killing 84 people, acted alone. But authorities are questioning several people. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, news that the attack was inspired by ISIS has added to fears.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In Nice, the beach has reopened and residents can stroll once again along the Promenade des Anglais, the picturesque, palm-lined boulevard that runs along the Mediterranean coast. Today, the usually festive promenade is littered with flowers and candles. Faces are somber. Nice native Anne Noyer is lighting a candle.
ANNE NOYER: We are very afraid. Very, very...
BEARDSLEY: Afraid, Noyer says, that the attack was inspired by ISIS. She says, "if the driver was just mentally ill, well, it's horrible, but a freak thing." "If he was with ISIS," she says, "it means the enemy is all around us." Noyer says Nice has an uneasy relationship with its Muslim population. Many Muslims have been here for generations and are integrated, she says, but others not so. Among them are foreigners like the Tunisian killer Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. A hundred people from Nice have joined the ranks of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, one of the highest numbers of any French city.
At a mosque in Nice, prayers are breaking off. News that the attack may have been carried out in the name of ISIS worries the Muslim community in this city. French-Tunisian Farid Benhada tells me none of this has anything to do with Islam.
FARID BENHADA: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: "The driver was no Muslim," he says, "but many of the victims were. God never told anyone to go kill children." Benhada says Muslims are afraid of a backlash. Bouhlel lived in this hilly neighborhood of high rises in the north of Nice. He came to France from Tunisia 10 years ago. People here say he beat his wife until she left him. They also say Bouhlel was not religious, but angry and mentally unstable. French authorities are examining Bouhlel's cell phone, found in the van. They say he may have radicalized rapidly in the last weeks.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS)
BEARDSLEY: Church services are being held across the city today. There is sadness and growing anger. Many say there was not enough security Thursday. Bouhlel was able to drive his truck up onto the sidewalk to get onto the crowded boulevard.
PHILIPPE VARDON: Nothing has been really done to protect our people.
BEARDSLEY: That's Philippe Vardon, a local official with the far-right National Front party. He blames the French government for the sparse security Thursday and for allowing mass immigration over the years. He says that's created Muslim ghettos where radicalism takes hold.
VARDON: You've got some places that are really not French at this moment because it's only Muslim area. And so in these places, it's the Muslim law.
BEARDSLEY: The anti-immigrant National Front party wants to close French borders and leave the European Union. Vardon believes the recent attack will make people realize his party is right. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Nice. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.