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French Investigators Release New Information About Driver In Nice Attack

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

French officials are learning more about the Tunisian man who barreled a truck through crowds last Thursday in Nice. He killed 84 people and injured more than 300. France's chief prosecutor says the man showed interest in jihad but that there was no proof that he had any allegiance to the Islamic State.

NPR's Daniel Estrin has the latest from Nice, where there are still many questions.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Investigators are still trying to figure out why Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel mowed down hundreds of people at the Bastille Day celebration. Six people are in police custody in connection with the attack. In a televised press conference today, prosecutor Francois Molins said some clues have emerged.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCOIS MOLINS: (Speaking French).

ESTRIN: Molins said Bouhlel's computer showed that his interest in radical jihadist movements was only very recent. He'd search for information related to the so-called Islamic State and other jihadi groups. And two weeks before his attack, he looked up information about the Bastille Day festivities.

He also told a witness that he didn't understand why Islamic State couldn't have its own territory. The prosecutor also noted Bouhlel's sudden change of behavior.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOLINS: (Speaking French).

ESTRIN: Bouhlel came from a Muslim family. But Molins said he was not a practicing Muslim. He ate pork, drank alcohol, did drugs and had what the prosecutor called an unrestrained sex life - all things that devout Muslims shun. And then eight days before the attack, Bouhlel started growing a beard and said it was for religious reasons. "Still," Molins said, "there was no proof he was affiliated with the Islamic State."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOLINS: (Speaking French).

ESTRIN: "No element of the investigation," Molins said, "shows that Mohamed Bouhlel had any allegiance to a terrorist group or anyone in connection with an organization. What is certain is Bouhlel's Bastille Day massacre was premeditated," the prosecutor said. Bouhlel rented the vehicle four days before the attack.

He went to the Promenade several times to take photos and selfies. And minutes before he sped through the crowd, he sent a text message saying he had acquired a pistol. At noon today, France observed a nationwide minute of silence for the victims. In Nice, tens of thousands gathered on the Promenade des Anglais where the attack occurred.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in French).

ESTRIN: Then the crowd sang, "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in French).

(APPLAUSE)

ESTRIN: There was applause for police and emergency responders. But when French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and other ministers arrived at the memorial, and again when they left, some of the crowd booed and shouted, criminals and murderers.

MELICENT DARAUD: (Speaking French).

ESTRIN: Twenty-two-year-old Melicent Daraud from Nice said she's angry. She said the French government has not done enough to protect people following three deadly attacks in just 18 months.

DARAUD: (Speaking French).

ESTRIN: "For something like this to happen, it's just not possible," she says and begins to cry. French leaders are facing heavy criticism for lapses in security. Leaders say their policies have thwarted many potential attacks. One woman said that everyone is deeply sad. But no one should direct anger at the wrong people.

She said anger should be directed at the one truly responsible for what happened, the killer. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Nice. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.