NICE, France — The man who carried out the Bastille Day rampage bears a striking resemblance to the perpetrators of similar attacks in Paris and Brussels over the past two years: a petty criminal known to authorities who was not considered a serious threat to national security.
The attacker, identified by authorities on Friday as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian-born deliveryman, fits an increasingly familiar profile. Bouhlel had a significant record of crime and violence, albeit one that does not currently include any known links to terrorist networks, Paris prosecutor François Molins said.
Bouhlel’s record stretches back six years and includes charges for threats and violence. In March, Molins told reporters, Bouhlel was charged with assault with a weapon for an incident in January.
Like Bouhlel, many of the people implicated in recent attacks in France and in Belgium had police records that included convictions for violence or petty crimes. While some were on the radar of intelligence services monitoring radical networks, others had been relative unknowns until they struck.
At least 84 people were killed when Bouhlel drove a 19-ton truck into a crowd on the Promenade des Anglais. Police finally shot and killed Bouhlel after the rampage, which extended more than a mile along Nice’s popular seaside stretch.
But left unclear Friday was a motive: Bouhlel did not leave behind a declaration of intent, and the Islamic State has not asserted responsibility for his actions, although supporters of the militant group celebrated the attack on social media.
Molins said the attack precisely fit the profile of Islamist extremist violence and threats but added that Bouhlel had no known links with terrorist groups.
The details of Bouhlel’s journey from petty criminal to mass murderer remain opaque.
The descriptions of Bouhlel’s criminal history came hours after Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the mass killing as a terrorist attack that had struck France “in its soul on 14 July, our national day.”
The choice of Bastille Day highlighted another uncomfortable commonality between Bouhlel and other terrorists implicated in the three major recent attacks in France: He had French nationality, choosing to attack a country — and a city — that was also his own.
On Friday morning, police raided his apartment in the predominantly working-class north section of the city, where many minority residents live in complexes of concrete-block, high-rise buildings far from the seaside Promenade des Anglais that Bouhlel attacked.
In the afternoon, as elderly neighbors dragged in carts of groceries, young men and teenagers smoked and talked in the parking lot of the complex where Bouhlel lived, which was littered with broken bottles and other trash. When asked whether they knew Bouhlel, they began to disperse.
A 68-year-old neighbor who declined to be identified beyond his first name, Mohamed, said he had seen the assailant in the apartment complex and thought he had a wife and three children. Molins said that Bouhlel was married with children but did not say how many.
Mohamed, who said he migrated to France from his native Tunisia in 1966, spoke scornfully of Bouhlel and other young immigrants and children of immigrants who have carried out terrorist attacks in his country over the past two years. “They’re just insane,” he said.
He brushed aside the frequent explanation that certain members of that young, mostly male, immigrant demographic act out in retaliation because of social isolation. Coming to France as a young man, he said, had been “hard, so hard, but not too hard.”
“We were extremely badly treated — we had no housing, there was no support for Arabs, and we lived like dogs. But we did things for France,” said Mohamed, now retired from a career as a builder. “France respects me, and I respect it — that’s all there is to it.”
Another neighbor, who gave her name as Monique, said she was “horrified” to learn that the killer had lived in her apartment complex. She said that the area was plagued by unemployment and that that was the root of the recent attacks.
“There are no morals anymore,” said Monique, 72, who would not give her last name but lives in the building that contains the apartment that police searched Friday.
Police were investigating Friday whether Bouhlel acted alone or had the support of accomplices. His ex-wife was detained Friday for questioning.
Citing Tunisian security officials, Reuters reported that Bouhlel was originally from the Tunisian town of Msaken and last visited the North African nation four years ago.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained quotes from Corentin Delobel, a Nice-based lawyer who claimed to have been the court-appointed lawyer of the Nice attacker. Delobel, who was widely interviewed by local and international press after the attack, has acknowledged that he had never represented Bouhlel, and misrepresented himself when media contacted him, the head of the Nice lawyers’ association said. His quotes have been removed from the story.
Witte reported from London. Annabell Van den Berghe in Nice and Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.