On France’s national Bastille Day, the country remembers victims of one of the most horrifying terror attacks in the city of Nice, while questions still remain and wounds are still unhealed a year after.
The attack, which left 86 dead and 458 injured, occurred late on July 14 one year ago, when a 19-ton white cargo truck plowed through crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the city’s Promenade des Anglais. The iconic street was a hotspot for tourists and residents alike, flocking to the seafront to watch the fireworks.
The crowd panicked and fled as the truck mowed people down. The attack ended when the assailant was gunned down by police during a shootout.
Attacker’s motives still unknown
The attacker was identified as 31-year-old French resident of Tunisian origin, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel.
While the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group released a statement a few days after the attack, calling Lahouaiej-Bouhlel its “soldier” who “carried out an operation against citizens of coalition countries,” a year later the investigators are still unable to determine for certain whether he was indeed a radical Islamist or a mentally unstable person.
Prior to moving to France in 2005, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel underwent psychiatric treatment in Tunis, according to his father. In France, the future perpetrator married his French-Tunisian cousin, and the pair had three children but were separated following multiple reports of domestic violence.
Initial findings indicated that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, known to law enforcement for petty theft and violent behavior, might have gotten radicalized shortly before the attack, as his prior life had little to do with radical Islam. French prosecutor François Molins, leading the inquiry, has described the perpetrator as “a young man completely uninvolved in religious issues and not a practicing Muslim, who ate pork, drank alcohol, took drugs and had an unbridled sex life.”
The attacker, however, started to visit a local mosque earlier in 2016. While the police established, upon examining his internet search history, that he had shown interest in violence, deadly terrorist acts and IS activities, they did not find the exact source for the probable radicalization.
Physical scars & unhealed mental wounds
While most of the injured have recovered from their wounds, between 10 and 20 patients are still in treatment, DW reported, citing the local university hospital official. Some 3,000 people, however, eyewitnesses to the attack and relatives of the victims, are still undergoing psychiatric treatment. While many of the victims are children, Nice is reportedly experiencing a severe shortage of children’s psychiatrists.
Following the attack, some €300 million ($343 million) was earmarked for victim relief, which victims could apply for in the aftermath of the incident. All the applicants received payments ranging from €2,500 to €5,000, but as of this month, only €25 million had been paid out. Only those who lost their close relatives – around a hundred people – were awarded financial compensation, according to radio network Europe 1 report.
Moreover, approximately half of the victims who applied for relief funds are still waiting for their status to be recognized.
The unhealed wounds were disturbed once again just ahead of the sad anniversary, with Paris Match magazine publishing graphic photos from last year’s attack.
The Paris prosecutor demanded that the controversial magazine issue be withdrawn, as the pictures “damage the dignity of the victims and their relatives.” The court ruled that Paris Match is forbidden from re-publishing the edition and barred the outlet from publishing the “obscene” images on its website, but did not order it to pull the copies currently on sale across France.
New administration fails to address old problems
The new French president, Emmanuel Macron, has disbanded a government department created in February 2016 to support victims of terror attacks. The questionable move was branded “absurd” by the National Federation of Victims of Attacks and Collective Accidents (FENVAC).
“Today we come to an absurd situation when we had a device that worked and which had the unanimous support of the victims. These families need to be reassured and in Nice, we are beyond a problem of rights and compensation, we are facing a public health problem,” Stephane Gicquel from FENVAC told Europe 1.
The new administration’s budget cuts, targeting military and law enforcement, raise the likelihood of new attacks, the former vice-mayor of Nice, Benoit Kandel, told RT.
“President Macron has just cut the military budget which is not a good thing. You can’t ask the army and the police to do a better job of protecting the French people and at the same time fail to give them enough financing,” Kandel said.
“France, like any other western country and also Russia, is under threat from Islamic terrorism,” Kandel added. “So, our governments need to work together to fight this threat. All the European countries, including France, need to start taking a more serious approach to the influx of migrants because clearly there are terrorists within the migrant population who will target the French public.”