Nice attack bewilders Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s relatives

Father of truck driver who committed atrocity said he was violent as a boy but showed no jihadi tendencies

Outside the family home a two-storey, whitewashed compound in the Tunisian town of Msaken Monthir Bouhlel was at a loss to understand how his son could have taken such a wrong turn.

As a boy, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had been troubled and often violent. His father remembered him as being always alone, always depressed. But he insisted the teenager had shown no jihadi tendencies, only self-destructive ones. He would become angry and he shouted, Bouhlel said. He would break anything he saw in front of him.

Nothing, however, in that stormy adolescence could have prepared his family for what Lahouaiej-Bouhlel did in France on Thursday night. Their shock was profound when news broke early Friday that his identity card had been found in the truck he used to kill 84 men, women and children on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

Indeed, the shock verged on denial. Repeated phone calls to Lahouaiej-Bouhlel from relatives in Msaken went unanswered. Why would my brother do something like this? his brother Jabeur told Reuters. Weve been calling him since yesterday evening but hes not responding.

Nothing in Lahouaiej-Bouhlels upbringing suggested a militant path, with neighbours in Tunisia and France saying he preferred women and drinking to religion, rarely visiting a mosque. The family lived a regular life in what is a prosperous part of Tunisia.

Once a small town, Msaken has in recent years been swallowed up by the expanding Sousse coastal conurbation, its wealth fuelled by miles of hotels along glittering beaches. The town has handsome cafes and wide boulevards, its prosperity underlined by a shiny Renault dealership on the main street.

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