‘He would break everything around him’: Family detail Nice attacker's mental health issues
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had a long history of violence and mental illness, his family back in his homeland of Tunisia said, while insisting he showed no obvious signs of radicalization prior to Thursday’s attack that left at least 84 people dead.
“My brother had psychological problems, and we have given the police documents showing that he had been seeing psychologists for several years,” Rabeb Bouhlel, his sister, told Reuters.
The 31-year-old Lahouaiej Bouhlel left Tunisia for France back in 2005, and did not keep in regular contact with his family, who live in modest accommodations in the village Msaken outside Sousse, a coastal resort that has also been targeted by an Islamist attack.
His family, which has literally chased away the media camped outside their house on several occasions, have refused to acknowledge that Lahouaiej Bouhlel was a terrorist.
“From 2002 to 2004 he had problems that led to a nervous breakdown,” his father Mohamed Mondher Lahouaiej Bouhlel told several French channels in an interview outside his home, while brandishing his son’s clinical evaluations before the cameras.
“He’d get angry and shout and break everything around him. He was violent and very ill. We took him to the doctor and he was put on drugs. Whenever there was a crisis, we took him back again. He was always alone. Always silent, refusing to talk. Even in the street, he wouldn’t greet people.”
According to his father, after moving to France, Lahouaiej Bouhlel had “no connection with religion. He didn’t fast or keep Ramadan. He drank. He even took drugs.”
In what may not be a coincidence, the men responsible for the Paris attacks last November also had a similar history of dead-end jobs, petty crime, drinking, and gambling, before apparently rapidly converting to the Islamist cause just months before their deaths.
Although he last saw his family in Tunisia in 2012 when he traveled back for his sister’s wedding, in recent weeks Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s behavior radically changed.
“Over the past month, he was calling us every day and he sent us money... He called several times a day,” explained Rebab.
His brother Jaber Bouhlel told the Daily Mail that the family received 240,000 Tunisian dinar (almost $110,000) from Mohamed in the past few weeks – a surprisingly large sum for a low-paid deliveryman.
“He used to send us small sums of money regularly like most Tunisians working abroad. But then he sent us all that money, it was fortune. He sent the money illegally. He gave cash to people he knew who were returning to our village and asked them to give it to the family,” said Jaber.
Ibrahim Bouhlel, a nephew, said that Mohamed even promised to travel back to Tunisia for a family party this week.
However, the next time his family saw him was in pictures in the news.
“We’re all in a state of shock at what’s happened,” said his father.
In a TV interview on Friday night, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that Lahouaiej Bouhlel “was likely a terrorist,” but police had not yet figured out if he had received financial support and training from Islamist organizations, or had simply subscribed to the ideology.