Nice attacker Mohamed Bouhlel mowed people down with a truck he rented three days previously
He appears to fit a pattern of attackers in which radicalization blended with mental health factors
A picture is slowly starting to form of what led Nice, France, attacker Mohamed Bouhlel to carry out the deadly terror attack in the Mediterranean resort city.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Saturday there were indications the attacker had been “radicalized very rapidly.”
CNN learned Sunday that Bouhlel sent a text message shortly before Thursday’s attack to an unknown recipient saying, “Bring more weapons 5 to C,” according to a representative for the Paris prosecutor’s office.
It appears Bouhlel also had serious mental health challenges. His father said he suffered from nervous breakdowns in which he “broke everything,” and that he believed his son’s mental health deteriorated after his separation from his wife.
By all accounts Bouhlel had a volatile personality. In March he was given a six-month suspended prison sentence after throwing a wooden pallet at a driver following a traffic accident. According to reports in the French media, a neighbor said that Bouhlel was so angered when his wife left him that he “defecated all over the place” and shredded his daughter’s teddy bear.
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But Bouhlel does not appear to have launched the attack in a sudden fit of anger. The fact he rented the truck three days beforehand suggests it was premeditated, as does the symbolic date chosen: July 14, the French national day, when thousands gather on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice to witness the fireworks.
A source close to the investigation told CNN that local associates of the Nice attacker detained for questioning have told interrogators that Bouhlel started speaking supportively of ISIS days before the attack. Four of his associates were arrested late Friday and early Saturday in Nice.
The Nice attacker appears to fit a pattern. In the last two years, multiple terrorist attacks in the West have involved a blend of radicalization and mental health factors, a category of terrorist some analysts such as Max Abrahms have termed “loon-wolves.”
Terrorism analysts are grappling with the reasons behind the spate of such attacks, but there is some consensus that psychological disorders can narrow the pathway between radical thought and action.
One such case was Man Haron Monis, who carried out a hostage attack in Sydney in December 2014 after pledging allegiance to ISIS. At the inquest into the attacks, he was described as unpredictable and a “dangerous psychopath” suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.
Another case in point was Mohammad Abdulazeez, a naturalized American who shot dead four U.S. Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 2015. Investigators established Abdulazeez was radicalized online, but according to his family he also suffered from bipolar disorder and depression, which were aggravated three months before the attack with his arrest for a DUI.