The Tunisian jihadist who slaughtered three people at a church in Nice before being gunned down by French police has tested positive for coronavirus – which could delay his questioning.
Brahim Issaoui, 21, remains hospitalised after being shot several times by police after the knife rampage at Nice’s Notre-Dame basilica on Thursday.
‘He hasn’t yet been questioned, his prognosis remains uncertain,’ another inquiry source told AFP late Monday.
Nice terrorist Brahim Issaoui is seen in a photograph taken at the Italian port city of Bari, where he disembarked from a coronavirus quarantine ship on October 8 – marking his arrival in mainland Europe
In a little over six weeks, Issaoui travelled from Tunisia, into Italy via Lampedusa, was taken to the mainland, and released by Italian authorities under deportation order. From there, it is thought he caught a train to Paris, where he stayed for a little over two weeks, before going to Nice and launching his attack
Issaoui, who was known to Tunisian police for violence and drug offences, arrived in France only last month, having first crossed the Mediterranean to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Italian media reports say he was initially placed in coronavirus quarantine with nearly 400 other migrants aboard a ferry boat, before being allowed to disembark at Bari on October 9.
Investigators have since determined he arrived in Nice on October 27, just two days before the church attack.
Issaoui first attacked married Nadine Devillers, 60, slitting her throat near the baptismal font in an attempted decapitation.
After trying to behead Devillers, Issaoui hacked 54-year-old sacristan Vincent Loques to death as he prepared for the first Mass of the day.
Brazilian-born Simone Barreto Silva, 44, was then stabbed multiple times but managed to escape the church, running to a nearby burger bar where she succumbed to her injuries. The mother-of-three’s last words to paramedics were: ‘Tell my children that I love them’.
Brahim Issaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant, receives medical treatment after killing three worshippers
On arrival, French police shot Issaoui 14 times as he screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is greatest in Arabic – a phrase he kept shouting even after being sedated and put into an ambulance.
Today, an al-Qaeda affiliated terror organisation called al-Mahdi, which is based in southern Tunisia, took responsibility for the attacks and claim they ‘prepared’ and ‘provided the logistical means’ for Issaoui to slaughter the three victims.
In footage posted on social media, the little-known terror group also threatened to send more ‘warriors’ to avenge Islam after French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in the Charlie Hebdo magazine.
Macron has vowed to defend the right to freedom of speech and that France will never renounce caricatures, after the furore created in the Muslim word by the republication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in September by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons to mark the start of the trial of suspected accomplices in the 2015 massacre of its staff by Islamist gunmen. The trial was Sunday delayed for at least a week after three defendants tested positive for coronavirus.
Meanwhile, six people have been detained for questioning over suspected links with Issaoui, but only one remained in custody Tuesday, a 29-year-old Tunisian who was aboard the boat that brought Issaoui to Lampedusa, sources said.
The Tunisian terrorist had turned to a hermit-like life of prayer following a lifestyle of drink and drugs before the atrocity, his family said.
Speaking from Sfax, Tunisia, last week, his mother said Issaoui had left school and worked as a motorcycle mechanic, at first spending his wages on alcohol and drugs.
She told the Telegraph: ‘I used to tell him, ”we are poor and you’re wasting money?” He would reply ”if God wills it, he will guide me to the right path, it’s my business”.’
Security forces guard the area after a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, last Thursday
But over the last two and a half years he became increasingly religious and isolated.
‘He prayed [and] went from home to work and back, not mixing with others or leaving the house,’ his mother said.
His brother Yassine said that Issaoui worked harvesting olives in Italy after leaving Tunisia, then went on to France.
On the day before the attack, October 28, he called the family to say he had just arrived in the country and would be sleeping in front of the church – sending a photograph of himself at the cathedral that would be the location of the attack.
‘He didn’t tell me anything,’ said Yassine. He added that he did not understand how he could carry out the Nice attack so soon after arriving in France.
The country’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that the attacker ‘wasn’t on any of our security watchlists, either French or European,’ and added that France was ‘at war with Islamist extremism… an enemy that is both internal and external’.
He told RTL radio: ‘We need to understand that there have been and there will be other events such as these terrible attacks.’