France truck attack was planned for months, with accomplices: Prosecutor
People stand in front of flowers, candles and messages laid at a makeshift memorial in Nice on July 18, 2016, in tribute to the victims of the deadly attack on the Promenade des Anglais seafront which killed 84 people. AFP photoFrance truck attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had long plotted the carnage that killed 84 people, prosecutor Francois Molins said July 21, with the assistance of five suspects who have been formally charged.
A week after Bouhlel rammed a truck into a crowd which had been enjoying a Bastille Day fireworks display, killing 84 people, Molins said photos on his phone showed he had likely already staked out the event in 2015, AFP reported.
It also emerged that one of the five suspects in custody, a Tunisian named Mohamed Oualid G., had filmed the scene of the crime the day after the carnage, as it crawled with paramedics and journalists.
The five suspects were brought before anti-terrorism judges late July 21 and charged.
They are 22-year-old Franco-Tunisian Ramzi A., 37-year-old Tunisian Chokri C., 40-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Oualid G., 38-year-old Albanian Artan H., and his wife Enkeledja Z. who holds both French and Albanian nationality.
None of the suspects were known to intelligence services, and only Ramzi A., who was born in Nice, had a criminal record for robbery and drug offences.
This suspect led police to discover a Kalashnikov and a bag of ammunition on July 21, however the purpose of the weapons was unclear.
Ramzi, Chokri and Oualid were charged with being accomplices to murder by a terror group. Ramzi and the Albanian couple faced a second charge, of breaking the law on firearms in relation to a terrorist crime.
The three latter suspects are accused of providing Bouhlel with the gun he fired at police officers before he was shot dead.
More than 400 investigators have been poring over evidence since the grisly attack, the third in France in 18 months, and it was analyses of Bouhlel’s telephone records that led them to the five suspects.
All five have been remanded in custody.
While the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed the attack, describing Bouhlel as a “soldier,” investigators have not found direct proof of his allegiance to the jihadists.
Many people interviewed by investigators described the Tunisian father of three as “someone who did not practice the Muslim religion, ate pork, drank alcohol, took drugs and had an unbridled sexual activity,” Molins said earlier this week.
However initial details of the investigation revealed that he had been fascinated with jihad for a while.
On May 26 last year, he took a photo of an article about the drug Captagon, an amphetamine used by jihadists in Syria.
In July 2015 he took photos of the crowd at the Bastille Day fireworks display, as well as another crowd watching a concert on the Promenade Des Anglais three days later.
On April 4 this year, Chokri C. sent Bouhlel a Facebook message reading: “Load the truck with 2,000 tons of iron... release the brakes my friend and I will watch.”
Molins said the two Mohameds contacted each other 1,278 times between July 2015 and July 2016.
Meanwhile, authorities in Nice have refused a request from French anti-terror police to delete surveillance camera images of the attack, amid growing questions over the scale of the police presence at the time, the Associated Press reported.
The city received a letter this week from the SDAT anti-terrorism agency saying images of the July 14 attack should be destroyed, an official at Nice City Hall said July 22.
The city is filing a legal complaint instead, arguing that the images could constitute evidence in the case, said the official, who is not authorized to be publicly named.
The letter did not provide a reason for the request, the city official said, but France’s Le Figaro newspaper said national police are concerned that the images would leak out and be used for jihadi propaganda.