Floral tributes, notes and candles placed in the road for victims of the Bastille Day attack in Nice. Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images. Kim Willsher in Paris. Thursday 21 July 2016 14.04 EDT Last modified on Thursday 21 July 2016 17.00 EDT.
The man who drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds more, had help planning the attack, the Paris prosecutor, FranÃ§ois Molins, has revealed.
Evidence from mobile phones and computer records suggested that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was not a recently radicalised â€œlone wolfâ€, as previously thought, but had several accomplices and had planned his attack for up to a year.
Molins told a press conference on Thursday that after the attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in January 2015, in which 12 people died, Bouhlel sent a text message to one suspect that read: â€œI am not Charlie. Iâ€™m happy they have brought some of Allahâ€™s soldiers to finish the job.â€
The prosecutor revealed what he described as â€œsignificant advancesâ€ in the inquiry, as four men and a woman suspected of helping Bouhlel appeared before a judge in Paris accused of being involved in a terrorist operation.
The suspects, whose full names were not given, were still being questioned by an anti-terrorism judge in Paris as Molins gave details of their alleged contact with the attacker.
They are expected to be formally mise en examen â€“ put under investigation â€“ as accomplices to murder and being part of a terrorist organisation, and to be remanded in police custody for further questioning.
The five were in contact with Lahouaiej-Bouhlel shortly before he ploughed into crowds gathered for the traditional Bastille Day fireworks last week along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, where the Tunisian man lived. Seconds before he drove the truck for almost 2km through groups of people, he sent two â€œodious messagesâ€ that appeared to have been pre-recorded on his mobile phone, Molins said.
The prosecutor said it was increasingly evident that Bouhlelâ€™s attack was premeditated and that he had logistical and planning support from the five others, with whom he had been in regular contact. â€œHe seems to have envisaged and developed his criminal plans several months before carrying them out,â€ Molins said.
Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was living in France on a residency permit. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images
The five people include a married couple from Albania, accused of supplying the automatic pistol that Bouhlel used to shoot at police, two French-Tunisian men and a Tunisian man. None were known to the French security or intelligence services and only one, a 41-year-old French-Tunisian, had a criminal record, for robbery, theft, assault and drug offences.
â€œThe investigation since the night of July 14 has kept moving forward and allowed us not only to confirm again the premeditated nature of Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlelâ€™s deadly act, but also to establish that he benefited from support and had accomplices in the preparation and carrying out of his criminal act,â€ Molins said.
Photographs and searches on the attackerâ€™s mobile phone included pictures of the Bastille Day fireworks in July 2015, and an article referring to the â€œmagic potion called Captagonâ€, which Molins said was a drug â€œused by certain jihadis preparing terrorist attacksâ€.
The prosecutor said he was considering bringing charges of â€œparticipating in a terrorist organisation with a view to preparing one or more crimes against the publicâ€ against the five suspects.
At the home of one of the men, detectives reportedly found drugs, â‚¬2,600 in cash and 11 mobile phones, French press reported. One photograph discovered by investigators showed one of the suspects in the cab of the truck used to carry out the massacre, taken three hours before the attack.
Molins confirmed that although Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the massacre, detectives had not yet established a direct link between Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the suspects and the terrorist group.
Franceâ€™s interior minister has acknowledged that there was no national police presence at the entrance to the pedestrianised walkway in Nice during the attack. In what represents a backtracking on his previous claim that national police were present, Bernard Cazeneuve said local police, who are more lightly armed, were guarding the entrance through which Bouhlel drove his truck.
Cazeneuve had earlier defended himself against accusations in the French newspaper LibÃ©ration that he lied publicly about there being a national police presence at the entry point, with their cars blocking the road. In a statement, Cazeneuve accused the paper of conspiracy theories and maintained that several â€œheroicâ€ national police â€“ who shot dead the attacker â€“ were stationed further down the promenade.
The local prefect, Adolphe Colrat, also disputed the paperâ€™s report. â€œAt no moment have the authorities lied,â€ Colrat said, adding that the row was â€œunfair and damagingâ€ for the police.
Cazeneuve has ordered an investigation and a â€œtechnical evaluationâ€ of security on the promenade on 14 July.
Meanwhile, the 51-year-old motorcyclist who tried to stop the attacker spoke about his experience to Nice-Matin. Franck, an airport worker whose surname was not given, said: â€œI wanted to stop him at any price â€¦ my aim was to get to the [driverâ€™s] cabin. When I drew level with him, I asked myself, what are you going to do with your poor scooter, so I threw it against the lorry and continued to run after him.
â€œFinally I grabbed on to the cabin. I was on the steps at the level of the open window facing him. I hit and hit him and hit him again. With all my strength, with my left hand in the face. He said nothing. He didnâ€™t even flinch. He had his gun in his hand but the pistol was not working. I had the impression he was trying to fiddle with it, I donâ€™t know. He pointed it at me and pulled on the trigger but it didnâ€™t work.
â€œI was ready to die. I was conscious and ready to die to stop him and I kept hitting him. I tried to drag him out through the window because I couldnâ€™t open the bloody door. I kept hitting him. Then he finally hit me on the head with the butt.â€
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