Born into a large family, Brahim Issaoui, 21, lived with his parents in a popular district of Sfax, Tunisia.
In the aftermath of the jihadist attack on a church in Nice, the profile of the aggressor and the three victims of this knife attack becomes clearer, while the French government is stepping up surveillance of the territory, from places of worship to schools.
If the motivations of the aggressor, Brahim Issaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian, are still unknown, his course is less vague. From French and Italian sources, he arrived clandestinely in Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa on September 20. Then he landed on the mainland, in Bari in Italy, on October 9, where he was reportedly ordered to leave the territory within seven days.
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His trace is then lost, until Wednesday, when he calls his brother Yassine, in Sfax, Tunisia. “He arrived in France around 8 pm Wednesday. He said he was going to France because for work is better,” said Yassine Issaoui on Friday, unable to understand the drift of this brother he had seen turning to religion for about two years, after starting a small informal gas outlet. “It’s not normal,” he repeats. “Since he dropped out of high school, he has worked in repairing motorcycles,” says his mother, in tears, holding a picture of her son in a white hoodie in her hands. “He didn’t go out and communicate with others,” she said.
Born into a large family of eight daughters and three sons, he lived with his parents in a simple house without plaster, on a rutted street in a working-class neighborhood near an industrial area on the outskirts of the coastal town of Sfax. After putting some money aside, he started a small informal gasoline outlet, such as can be found in many towns in Tunisia where most of the economic activity takes place outside the official system.
“I told him to rent a small stall with these 1100 to 1200 dinars (about 400 euros, Editor’s note) in order to be able to work. He told me that he wanted to make a shed to sell gasoline”, explains his mother. According to his relatives, the young man had turned to religion and isolated in recent years. “He has been praying for about two and a half years. He went from work to home, didn’t go out and didn’t mix with others,” explains the mother. Before, “he drank alcohol and used drugs. I was like, ‘We are needy, and are you wasting money?’ He replied that ‘God willing, he is going to direct me to the right path, that’s up to me,’ “she continues.
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The young man had already attempted the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean for Italy, in vain, and had not warned his relatives of this new departure, according to his brother. The family, incredulous, do not understand how he could have taken action, less than a month and a half after his arrival in Europe.
He did not apply for a residence permit or resident card in France, according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, on RTL this Friday. It is also “unknown to the national file of fingerprints” and “unknown to the intelligence services”, according to the national anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard.
From a source close to the investigation, we also expect the young man to arrive in Nice “24 to 48 hours before the attack”. Then it was at 8:29 a.m. on Thursday that he was seen entering the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption basilica in Nice. At 8:57 am, he was neutralized by a municipal police team. Seriously injured, he is currently being treated at the CHU Pasteur, before being able to be questioned by the investigators. In less than half an hour, he killed three people.
“The threat is everywhere”
On the spot, investigators found the murder weapon, a knife with a 17 cm blade, according to Jean-François Ricard. A bag of personal effects, a Koran and two phones, as well as two unused knives were also found, he added. These two phones are in operation. “His deep motivations, the possible maturity of his project are still unknown to us,” said another source close to the investigation Friday.
Did the attacker act alone? From a source close to the investigation, the 47-year-old man arrested Thursday evening, suspected of having been in contact with the young Tunisian, would in fact not be linked to this file. But the search for possible accomplices could advance thanks to the two cell phones found near Brahim Issaoui.
On the government side, the Defense Council meeting this Friday confirmed the provision to the prefects from Monday of 7,000 members of the police, half of the reservist gendarmes, to ensure security, said the Minister of Interior Gérald Darmanin. The strengthening of security measures around places of Christian worship will be “strong” in this All Saints weekend. schools will also be particularly protected when the start of the holidays will take place on Monday.
Two weeks after the assassination of teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded for showing his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, as part of a course on freedom of expression, tension is great between France and a party of the Muslim world. “The threat is everywhere,” insisted the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, for the attention of French people abroad.
After the attack on a security guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, announced on Thursday, clashes erupted in Beirut on Friday, near the residence of the French embassy. “We are moving quickly from virtual hatred to real violence, and we have decided to take all measures to ensure the security of our interests, of our nationals,” insisted Le Drian.
On French soil, many elected officials, mainly on the right, are calling for a change in the law in the face of these attacks. Nice LR Mayor Christian Estrosi told Europe 1 that he wanted to “amend the Constitution” so that he could “wage war” against an ideology he called “Islamo-fascism”. Eric Ciotti, LR MP for the Alpes-Maritimes, called on Cnews to create “a French-style Guantanamo”.
“We are not at war against a religion but against an ideology, the Islamist ideology,” said the Minister of the Interior. After the Nice attack, messages of support for France came from all over the world, from the United States to the Middle East, from Europe to the UN.
In Nice, a city with a strong community from the Maghreb, feelings are mixed. Anger or even hatred among these 200 or so identitarians who demonstrated on Thursday evening, with cries of “Islam outside”. But also calls for tolerance, like that of Virginie, a 37-year-old home help: “It reminds us of 2016 and July 14, but we have to stay smart.”