17 Jul 2016

Two arrests linked to attack in Nice

9:42 pm on 17 July 2016

Police have arrested a man and a woman in connection with the truck attack that killed at least 84 people celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, a judiciary source has said.

A woman places flowers at a make-shift memorial for victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack in Nice.

A woman places flowers at a make-shift memorial for victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack in Nice. Photo: AFP

On Friday, 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck into crowds marking Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in the southern French city, and fired shots before he was himself shot dead by police.

The Islamic State (IS) group claimed he was a follower. Amaq Agency, a news agency linked to IS, said: "He did the attack in response to calls to target the citizens of the coalition that is fighting the Islamic State."

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was divorced with three children. His ex-wife was taken into custody on Friday along with four other people believed to be linked to him. A flat he lived in near Nice train station was searched by police on Friday morning.

Two more people, a man and a woman close to Bouhlel, have been arrested in Nice, bringing the number of people in detention over the killings to seven.

However, French authorities were yet to produce any evidence Lahouaiej Bouhlel had any links to Islamic State.

Born in the former French colony Tunisia, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had a temporary residence permit for France.

Mr Molins said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was "totally unknown" to security services, and investigations were continuing into whether he acted alone.

He was said to have hired the 19 tonne refrigerated truck from a rental company in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, a town to the west of Nice, on 11 July, and had been due to return it on 13 July.

The police said that, at the time of the attack, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was in possession of an automatic pistol, bullets, a fake automatic pistol and two replica assault rifles (a Kalashnikov and an M16), as well as an unarmed grenade. Also in the truck with him were a driving licence and a bank card.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said some of those questioned had told police Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had recently been radicalised and had undergone a rapid transformation and had been a person with no apparent interest in religion.

The French interior minister called on 'all patriotic citizens' to become reservists to boost security in the wake of the attack.

Bernard Cazeneuve reiterated that France would call up 12,000 army reservists.

The country already has 120,000 police and military around the country. Its 12,000 reservists are made up of 9000 military police and a further 3000 regular police officers.

"I want to call on all French patriots who wish to do so, to join this operational reserve," Mr Cazeneuve said.

People gather around a makeshift memorial to pay their respects.

People gather around a makeshift memorial to pay their respects. Photo: AFP

France in deep mourning

France on Saturday began three days of mourning for the scores of people killed and hundreds injured in the attack.

About 30,000 people were on the Promenade des Anglais at the time of the attack on Thursday night.

Of the 84 who died, 10 were children. A total of 303 people were taken to hospital following the attacks, the French health department said on Saturday. Of those, 121 remain in hospital, 30 of them children. A further 26 people are still in intensive care, including five children.

-BBC / Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs