NICE, France, July 16 (UPI) — The Islamic State said one of its “soldiers” carried out an attack at a Bastille Day celebration in Nice while French investigators announced Saturday at least three people were arrested in connection to the attack.
As France began a three-day period of national mourning, authorities continued work to piece together the events that led up to the deadly rampage that left 84 dead and more than 200 injured.
The IS, in a statement through the Amaq Agency, claimed responsibility for the attack. French investigators named Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, as the man who drove a 20-ton truck through a crowd, opening fire along the way.
“The person who carried out the operation in Nice, France, to run down people was one of the soldiers of Islamic State. He carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of states that are part of the coalition fighting Islamic State,” the statement said. It is not clear if the attack was from an IS sympathizer taking direction or an IS member sent to carry out the violence. The IS is also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.
About 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Bouhlel drove a box truck on Nice’s main street, Promenade des Anglais, to rundown spectators who had gathered to watch the Bastille Day fireworks. Authorities said he opened fire on the crowd before he was shot dead by police.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Bouhlel is believed to have undergone swift radicalization. Prosecutor Francois Molins said Bouhlel was “completely unknown” and was not on the terrorism radar.
Cazeneuve also said this type of attack “showed the extreme difficulty of the fight against terrorism.
Three men were taken into custody on Friday and two on Saturday. Bouhlel’s estranged wife remains in police custody. It is unclear if anyone has been charged.
Boubakar Bekri, president of the Regional Council for the Muslim Faith in Nice responded to the attack.
“Yesterday in all mosques in the region of Alpes-Maritimes, there has been a common prayer calling for vigilance and patience, because these very bad events affect us,” he said. “And there has been a call for blood donation.”
According to officials, there were 30,000 people on the promenade at the time of the attack. The victims are both residents of Nice as well as tourists, including two Americans – a father and his 11-year-old son who were visiting from Texas.
The number of fatalities is expected to climb with 80 people still listed in critical condition.
This marks the third terror attack in France in the past 18 months.