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Nice attacker was 'silent loner' with violent criminal past

Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who told police he was delivering ice cream, was known as a petty criminal and a 'silent loner'
French police officers search a truck in Nice on July 15, a day after a lorry was used to kill 84 people (AFP)

Mohamed Bouhlel had been waiting in his lorry for nine hours before he launched his devastating attack in Nice on Thursday. Despite being repeatedly questioned by police, he had assured them that he was there to deliver ice cream.

Finally, as the fireworks finished and people began to disperse along Nice's famous seafront Promenade des Anglais, Bouhlel started the engine and drove the white vehicle into the crowds for more than two kilometres, killing at least 84 people and leaving many others with critical injuries.

The delivery man was eventually shot dead in his cab, leaving behind identification papers, a cache of fake grenades and weapons and misery on Nice's streets.

In the aftermath France's third mass attack in less than two years, a picture began to emerge of a man who, almost inevitably, was known to police but was not on any terrorism watchlist.

Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian-born French citizen with three children, was known to local police as a petty criminal with past convictions for domestic violence who last March had been found guilty of violent conduct.

Yet Bouhlel, who grew up in the Tunisian town of Msaken close to the beach resort of Sousse, had no confirmed links with militant groups, according to the police.

His cousin who wished to remain anonymous, told the Daily Mail that Bouhlel never attended a mosque or fasted during Ramadhan.

“He was not a Muslim, he was a s***. He beat his wife, my cousin, he was a nasty piece of work,” the cousin said.

Bouhlel who was in the process of divorcing his wife, drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs according to his cousin. 

Neighbours in the working class district of Nice described Bouhlel as a silent loner who would not return greetings when their paths crossed.

Seabastien, who did not want his full name used, told the AFP news agency that Bouhlel did not seem overtly religious, often dressed in shorts and sometimes wore work boots.

A second neighbour who lived on the ground floor described Bouhlel as a “good looking man” who she had caught “staring” at her two daughters.

French police have since searched his flat while Bouhlel's ex-wife was taken in for questioning, a police source told AFP.

No claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack has been made, although some analysts have suggested that Bouhlel's actions fit the pattern of so-called lone actor attacks encouraged by the Islamic State (IS) group, which in November killed scores of people in coordinated gun and bomb attacks in Paris.