Tunisian attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel visited the Nice promenade with his rented truck on the two days before he rammed the vehicle into a crowd, killing 84, a source close to the investigation said Sunday.
The source said police had questioned hundreds of people since Thursday night’s attack, several of whom said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel did show signs of being religious.
French authorities have said the terrorist became radicalized “very quickly,” and some of his family and friends had previously said he smoked, drank and never went to the mosque.
While he had a record of being a petty criminal, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had never appeared on the radar of intelligence services for links to radical Islam.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Saturday the father of three “seemed to have been radicalized very quickly, from what his friends and family” have told police.
Several people have told police that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, had shown signs of being religious, despite previous reports to the contrary, said a source close to the investigation.
People who went to the same gym as Lahouaiej-Bouhlel — where he did salsa dancing and lifted weights — described him as “conceited” and someone who “would flirt with anything that moved.”
Neighbors described the attacker as volatile, prone to drinking and womanizing, and in the process of getting a divorce. His father, in Tunisia, said his son did not pray or fast for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the killings, saying that one of its “soldiers” carried out the attack “in response to calls to target nations of coalition states that are fighting (IS).”
French officials did not dispute the claim but they have not provided concrete evidence of a connection.
Cazeneuve described the massacre as a “a new kind of attack” which highlighted “the extreme difficulty of the anti-terrorism fight.”
“We are now confronted with individuals open to IS’s message to engage in extremely violent actions without necessarily having been trained or having the weapons to carry out a mass (casualty) attack,” he said.
Mangled bodies were left strewn across the storied seafront, including children, in the grisly attack.
In Nice, many people were still desperately looking for news of their loved ones among the dead and 121 still hospitalized.
“We have no news, neither good nor bad,” said Lithuanian Johanna, who was looking for her two friends, aged 20.
Juliette Meadel, state secretary for victims’ support, conceded the process was “long and cruel.”
At least 10 children were among the dead as well as tourists from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Germany.