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ISIS Claims Responsibility Despite No Known Terrorist Links To Suspect


The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack in Nice, France. Eighty-four people were killed and hundreds more wounded, 50 critically. But French authorities say the attacker had no known links to terrorist organizations. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Nice. Eleanor, good morning.


WERTHEIMER: So what do we know today?

BEARDSLEY: Well, as you said, ISIS, or Daesh as it's known here, claimed the attack by its news agency. It says it inspired this attacker, whose name is Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. But we have to take this with caution because no accomplices have been found to Thursday's attack. He acted alone. And the Paris prosecutor says this individual has been, you know, arrested for petty crimes and violent aggressive behavior, but he has no links to radical terrorism or any kind of jihadist networks. He's unknown to domestic intelligence officials, and no note was found in the van he was driving.

There's really nothing so far to lead investigators to believe that he is related to Islamist radicalism except for the fact that he's Tunisian, a Muslim country, and he had guns in the car. They were fake ones except for the handgun he used to shoot police. Now that - officials do agree that this attack could fit the mold of an individual attacker. He attacked France on a national holiday. You know, as I said, he's from Tunisia. But the French media has been reporting from Tunisia. They found his family, and his father says he was unstable mentally.

Now, I've been to the neighborhood where Bouhlel lived, and I spoke to people who knew him, not well but knew his wife. They said his wife was a good person - she took care of the kids - and that he was a very bad guy, that he beat her. And they, in the neighborhood, say it has nothing to do with Islam. He was not a religious person, et cetera, so...

WERTHEIMER: How are the people of Nice feeling?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Linda, I'm standing, you know, right off the Promenade des Anglais, which is - was completely closed down until late last night, and now it's partly open again. This is a vacation idyll. This is a beautiful town, and people of the world over come here on vacation. It's France's second vacation city, most tourist-visited city.

Now, yesterday, it was very jarring to have the beach as a crime scene, but today it's opened up. I was out on the beach speaking to people, and I spoke to 38-year-old Virginie Desbrosses, who was out there with her 4-year-old daughter. She lives right there in front of the beach where it all took place on Thursday night. And she was at the scene, watching the fireworks with her daughter.

VIRGINIE DESBROSSES: She didn't realize nothing at all because I carried her in my arms and I ran as far as I can.

BEARDSLEY: Now, Desbrosses says she thinks Nice has to go back to normal, and she came out on the beach today. But she says people aren't feeling normal yet.

DESBROSSES: I'm really scared, to be honest with you. But, you know, for her, I have to act normal, you know?

WERTHEIMER: Eleanor, you live in France. How do these attacks in Nice compare to the shootings that happened in Paris last year?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, well, Linda, you know, Paris is a world capital, so people sort of knew they were a target. People here in Nice, they're just stunned, shocked that such a horrible, bizarre attack happened in the heart of their city on this beautiful beach. But I guess, you know, it makes people realize that it could happen anywhere.

And it happened while France was under the highest security ever. It hosted this football - World Month football cup. And police and soldiers were everywhere, and it still happened. So many people wonder how can you actually protect yourself from such kinds of attacks?

WERTHEIMER: Eleanor Beardsley, thank you very much.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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