21-year-old Tunisian man accused of using a kitchen knife to kill 3 people in a Nice church who spoke to his family 12 hours before the attack, does not indicate he is intending to be violent .
Brahim Aouissaoui grew up in a humble home on a potholed street in Thina, a working-class residential neighborhood in the industrial park near Sfax, a major port on Tunisia’s east coast.
Sfax is 80 miles (130km) from the small Italian island of Lampedusa and a key point to departure incident Tunisia to Europe.
Aouissaoui quit her studies in high school and worked as a bicycle repairman before starting a roadside business selling small amounts of gasoline to motorists, family members said.
Authorities said Aouissaoui from time to time had violent behavior and drug use that drew him to the attention of local police.
“He drank alcohol and used drugs. I told him: “We don’t have enough and you, are you wasting money?” Gamra Issawi, Aouissaoui’s mother, said.
She said her son replied: “If God wants, he will direct me on the right path, it’s my job.”
Over the past two years, relatives noticed a change in Aouissaoui’s behavior. He began to pray often, at home, and away from old friends. But he “never displayed extremism,” said Yassin, a brother. “He respected all others and accepted their differences even when he was a kid.”
Aouissaoui had begun thinking about leaving Sfax and Tunisia, and made at least one move from her intention to cross the Mediterranean and to Italy. He did not inform his family in advance that he would try a second time. “He didn’t say… and we were surprised when he told us he had reached Italy,” said Yassin.
According to prosecutors in Tunisia and Sicily, Aouissaoui went missing on September 14 and arrived on the island of Lampedusa on 20 September in a small fishing boat with 20 other young Tunisians.
The sea conditions were favorable that day and a total of 26 boats arrived in Lampedusa in 24 hours, each carrying between 10 and 20 people. Aouissaoui was questioned by police upon arrival, who showed no signs of distress or cause to alarm, according to sources cited by la Repubblica.
Italian officials told local media Aouissaoui was never on the watchlist of Tunisian police and was not on the radar of intelligence organizations. Tunisian officials confirmed Aouissaoui was not listed by their security service, and French investigators said he did not know there.
Italian investigators confirmed to the Guardian that on 23 September Aouissaoui was on deck 5 of the quarantine vessel Covid-19 Rhapsody, along with 804 others. His cotton swab test results were negative and on October 9, the Rhapsody vessel docked at Bari’s Adriatic port in Italy, where Aouissaoui was photographed and registered by the authorities. Italian prosecutors also confirmed that Aouissaoui had no papers at the time.
The high number of people from Tunisia means repatriation procedures from Italy are often delayed. Instead, the Tunisians received a written order asking them to leave Italy within seven days.
Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, professor of refugee law at the University of Palermo, says about 50 people a week are transferred to a protected migration center before being escorted back to Tunisia by plane but the rest are released. . Aouissaoui received an order to leave Italy but his actions were not monitored. He may have traveled illegally through Ventimiglia on the French border.
He called his family around 8pm on Wednesday to tell them he was in France. “He said that he decided to go to France because of a better job prospects and too many people [seeking employment] in Italy, ”said his brother.
Aouissaoui’s sister, Afef, said he reached out to Notre Dame Cathedral in Nice while looking for a place to sleep, and told her he intended to rest in an opposite building. She said there was no indication he was planning to attack of any kind, but 12 hours later was accused of entering the church and killing two women and one man with a knife.
Aouissaoui, who carried two cell phones and a Qur’an with a weapon, was shot by the police. He is in critical condition and is heavily guarded in the hospital.
French police arrested a 47-year-old man linked to Aouissaoui on Wednesday night, although officials said there was no evidence of complicity.
According to Aaron Zelin, author of a recent book on extremism in the country, the Tunisians were involved in eight conspiracies in France between 2014 and mid-2019, as well as four other places in Europe.
A major attack was carried out by a Tunisian man on Bastille Day in Nice in 2016. He drove a truck into a crowd, killing 86 people.
Although the 2011 revolution gave Tunisia democracy and freedom of expression, it did not translate into improvements in living standards or economic opportunity, and more and more young people are seeking to migrate.
In September, Italy said the number of migrants arriving by boat across the Mediterranean in the past year had increased by one and a half.