Bastille Day Attack in France

Caitlan McLaren - 3T Chemical
Posted on: July 17, 2016

July 14th is known in France as Bastille Day: it commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison during the French Revolution, and is a national holiday in celebration of freedom and democracy. In Nice, like everywhere else in France, people were celebrating and enjoying a fireworks display.

The Promenade des Anglais was packed with people when a 19-ton truck charged into the crowd at top speed. At first, people thought it was out of control, but as the truck continued without stopping, it became clear that this was a deliberate attack. Police fired on the truck as it continued for two kilometres down the Promenade; a heroic motorcyclist attempted to open the door, but failed and was crushed under the truck. Another individual jumped onto the back of the truck, drawing fire from the driver as the police surrounded the truck and riddled it with bullets, killing the driver. In the cab, the police discovered an automatic pistol, two semiautomatic rifles, ammunition, and a fake pistol and a dud grenade as well. The truck was stopped, but the streets were full of bodies and injured people. At the time of writing, 84 were dead, including 10 children, and more than three hundred were hospitalized.

The driver was identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian national who had lived in France since 2005. While he was known to the police as a petty criminal, and had been arrested for violent assault, he had no known connections to terrorist organizations or known radicals, and was not known to be religious. While he was married and had three children, his wife had left him because he was physically abusive and they were in the process of divorce.

After the attack, police arrested seven people; his ex-wife was also taken in for questioning, but later released. Bouhel had sent texts to several people before his rampage, some of which appeared to be planning with co-conspirators, and others were messages to his family. In the days preceding the attack, Bouhel apparently sent £84,000 to his relatives in Tunisia – an action which surprised them. He also made more frequent phone calls and insisted that everything was “normal”. According to his family, Bouhel was psychologically disturbed, and they had insisted that he visit a psychiatrist in Tunisia about his drinking, drug use, and violent behaviour. Both his family and his former psychiatrist nonetheless expressed shock that he would carry out such a terrible atrocity. As he was not known to anti-terrorism intelligence, it would appear that if he was radicalized, it would have occurred very quickly. The attack was recently claimed by ISIL, also known as Daesh, who called Bouhel an “Islamic State soldier”; however, that is not necessarily conclusive, as ISIL frequently claims attacks that they have only tenuous connections to.

The attack came at a significant time; security measures in France were very tight during the 2016 UEFA European Championship, which France was hosting, and were just relaxing; President François Hollande had not long before declared that he would not extend the state of emergency that France had been under ever since the November 2015 Paris attacks; now, of course, the state of emergency has been extended for another three months. The state of emergency gives the authorities the power to search private property without a warrant and to place people under house arrest. Hollande is facing a great deal of political backlash in the wake of these attacks; many French citizens feel that security measures were not strong enough and poorly planned. Currently, Hollande has stated his intentions of calling up France’s reservists and intensifying Operation Sentinelle, in which soldiers patrol the streets.

France received an outpouring of sympathy from around the world as they recover from their third serious terrorist attack in the last year and a half. World leaders, religious leaders, and public figures all condemned the attacks and expressed sorrow over the loss of life. The Promenade des Anglais in Nice is now open again, the bodies removed and the blood cleaned; it is filled with mourners and shrines honouring the dead. Things are going back to normal, very slowly, and it may never fully return to the way it was before. This is definitely not the first shocking attack France has suffered; hopefully, it will be the last.