In France, a moment of silence for Nice victims and outbursts of anger at officials

Mourners gather at a memorial in Nice, France.

In what has become a grim ritual, France paused for a moment of silence Monday to mourn the victims of a major terrorist attack, this time the 84 people killed when a tractor-trailer was deliberately driven through a holiday celebration in Nice last week.

Unlike at events honoring the victims of two terrorist attacks that killed scores of people in Paris last year, an enormous crowd of mourners loudly booed and jeered political leaders at the central memorial in Nice as they arrived and then a few moments later after they departed the solemn ceremony — a remarkable display of anger at a moment of national grieving.

They expressed frustration at what many people consider their government’s failure to protect a nation that has become increasingly frightened by the scourge of terrorism.


Also Monday, federal prosecutors in Paris said they found evidence from computer records that suspect Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s attack was premeditated and well-planned, that he had studied videos of horrific crashes online as well as Islamic State propaganda, and that he started growing a beard shortly before the attack. Bouhlel, 31, was shot and killed by police during the attack.

At the memorial under blazing midday sunshine in Nice, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls did not utter a word, but he still faced a withering chorus of jeering as soon as he arrived through a back entrance from behind a screen and walked in front of the crowd estimated at 42,000 at the Promenade des Anglais.

In Paris, where trains, subways and public life once again came to a halt, French President Francois Hollande and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve participated in a ceremony at the Interior Ministry as national opinion polls show the government sinking further in popularity to record lows ahead of an election in less than a year. Conservative opposition parties have harshly criticized Hollande and Valls for failing to come up with remedies to stop the attacks.

In Nice, there were intermittent shouts of “murderers” and “resign” before the crowd quickly quieted down for the moment of silence that was followed by a moving a cappella rendition of the national anthem, La Marseillaise, and then a round of applause.

Valls, who stirred emotions recently by saying “Times have changed and we should learn to live with terrorism,” was jeered again when he left and as he walked along a back street with other local leaders to city hall.

“I’m angry,” said Julian Rullier, a 26-year-old local soccer player, explaining why he joined the spontaneous protest that erupted in the midst of the mourning ceremony. “I’m angry because of what happened here. I’m furious at the whole situation. Our country is going through a very sad period. It’s like we are war again. We had the feeling of being safe but we weren’t.”

It’s like we are war again. We had the feeling of being safe but we weren’t.

— Julian Rullier, protester

There were also messages of disgust at France’s leaders scrawled on the closed-off roads around the ceremony that read “We’re sick of the carnage on our streets” and “We’ve had enough speeches.”

Romain Rossi, a 26-year-old construction worker, said he felt a need to come to Monday’s memorial to show France and the outside world that Nice won’t be bowed by terrorism.

“It’s a very sad day for us but it’s important to show our solidarity. Nobody thought it could happen here. Before, terrorism was only something we saw on TV. We have to be united [against terrorism] here, and around the world.”

But with next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections looming, opposition political leaders have opted against making grand displays of national unity that followed the last two attacks and have instead directly attacked the government.

“I know that we shouldn’t fight or tear each other up before the victims have even been buried, but I want to say that everything that should have been done [to stop terror attacks] over the last 18 months was not done,” said former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was defeated by Hollande in 2012. The main opposition leader, who hopes to win back power next year, added in an interview with the Le Parisien newspaper on Monday: “We’re at war, total war. So I’ll use blunt language: It’s either us or them.”

Cazeneuve dismissed Sarkozy’s remarks as “shameful” and also rejected criticism from the leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, who said the government has “done nothing” to stop Islamic extremists.

In a radio interview Monday, Cazeneuve said: “Certain members of the political class have failed to respect the period of mourning. Fighting has erupted right away, which personally shocks and saddens me.”

In Paris, prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters that investigators had found clear evidence taken from Bouhlel’s apartment in Nice that the attack was premeditated. Among other things, they found he had searched online for details about the Orlando, Fla., attack on a gay nightclub last month. The Tunisian-born deliveryman had also done online searches for information about Islamic State, other Islamist militant groups and violent videos.

Islamic State indirectly claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday, two days after it happened, and called Bouhlel a “soldier.” But Molins said the links were tenuous at best.

“Even though there are no elements in the investigation to suggest at this point an allegiance to Islamic State or links with individuals from that group, he still showed a certain recent interest for radical jihadist movements,” Molins said. He added that Bouhlel was seen on closed circuit television cameras rehearsing in a car the route he would take in the days before the deadly journey in the truck on Bastille Day.

Bouhlel had told people recently that he started growing his beard for religious reasons even though he had not been known before that as a devout Muslim, Molins said. Bouhlel also had said that he could not understand why Islamic State was not able to have its own territory, the prosecutor said.

Six people are in custody as part of the investigation, according to officials. Bouhlel had sent a text message before the attack requesting “more weapons.” Three of the suspects were taken to France’s intelligence headquarters in Paris on Monday. Officials found 11 cell phones, cocaine and 2,600 euros at the apartment of one of the suspects, according to French media reports.

The Nice attack was the third major act of terrorism in France in the last 18 months, after an assault on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store in January 2015 and a series of attacks in Paris in November.

Kirschbaum and Harvey are special correspondents.


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