Ibrahim Issaoui

Ibrahim Issaoui is a Tunisian national who carried out an attack at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France on October 29, 2020. The attack—which included a beheading—killed three people.Angela Charlton and Daniel Cole, “France mourns 3 killed in church attack, tightens security,” Associated Press, October 30, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/tunisia-france-arrests-terrorism-nice-c01aa6dcd34fcf97ad5fcfa2b46bd83f.

According to media reports, Issaoui was unknown to French and Tunisian authorities. He was previously detained in 2016 for getting into a brawl, but was released shortly after due to his status as a minor. Additionally, friends and family close to Issaoui claimed he gave up drinking alcohol and began to pray, but showed no outward signs of radicalization.Mehdi El-Arem and Angela Charlton, “France church attack: Assailant’s family seeks answers,” Associated Press, October 31, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/italy-tunisia-france-arrests-terrorism-1cb4b96f82f69b3d627afa3f1f3ba406.

Issaoui allegedly left Sfax, Tunisia sometime in September 2020, without revealing where he was going. His family later discovered that he had taken a boat across the Mediterranean with a dozen other individuals from his area.Bel Trew, “‘He showed no signs of being radicalised’: Family of Nice terror suspect say he gave no clues about violent attack,” Independent, October 29, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nice-terror-attack-tunisia-family-france-suspect-ibrahim-issaoui-b1455858.html. According to French anti-terrorism officials, Issaoui reached the Italian island of Lampedusa—a hub for migrants crossing from North Africa—on September 20, 2020.Bel Trew, “‘He showed no signs of being radicalised’: Family of Nice terror suspect say he gave no clues about violent attack,” Independent, October 29, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nice-terror-attack-tunisia-family-france-suspect-ibrahim-issaoui-b1455858.html.

Media sources claim Issaoui’s boat was held for two weeks due to COVID-19 quarantine regulations, but finally disembarked in Bari, southern Italy on October 8. After carrying out a background check, Italian authorities did not find a criminal record for Issaoui, but still issued a deportation order since Issaoui had no legal grounds to enter Europe.Bel Trew, “‘He showed no signs of being radicalised’: Family of Nice terror suspect say he gave no clues about violent attack,” Independent, October 29, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nice-terror-attack-tunisia-family-france-suspect-ibrahim-issaoui-b1455858.html. However, no further details have been provided by Italy as to whether any action was taken to ensure Issaoui complied with the order.“Alleged attacker, victims ID'd as investigation into Nice church attack continues,” Associated Press, October 30, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/france-nice-attack-investigation-1.5783103. Issaoui allegedly worked illegally in an olive grove in Italy to make money, but decided to travel to France in pursuit of a more stable job.Bel Trew, “‘He showed no signs of being radicalised’: Family of Nice terror suspect say he gave no clues about violent attack,” Independent, October 29, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nice-terror-attack-tunisia-family-france-suspect-ibrahim-issaoui-b1455858.html. French investigators determined Issaoui arrived in Nice on October 27.“French church attacker tests positive for Covid-19,” Al Araby, November 3, 2020, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/11/3/french-church-attacker-tests-positive-for-covid-19.

On October 29, 2020, armed with a knife and shouting “Allahu akbar”—“God is great” in Arabic—Issaoui stabbed and killed three people at Notre Dame Basilica in Nice. Issaoui beheaded one victim and slit the throat of a second. Shortly after, police shot and lethally wounded Issaoui upon his arrest.Angela Charlton and Daniel Cole, “France mourns 3 killed in church attack, tightens security,” Associated Press, October 30, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/tunisia-france-arrests-terrorism-nice-c01aa6dcd34fcf97ad5fcfa2b46bd83f; Mehdi El-Arem and Angela Charlton, “France church attack: Assailant’s family seeks answers,” Associated Press, October 31, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/italy-tunisia-france-arrests-terrorism-1cb4b96f82f69b3d627afa3f1f3ba406.

Nice officials labeled the attack an act of terrorism, making it France’s third terror attack since September 2020. According to Tunisian prosecutors, a previously unknown group called Al Mehdi of Southern Tunisia claimed responsibility for orchestrating the attack. French police detained five additional suspects for questioning. However, there is no proof the formerly unknown extremist group is linked to Issaoui’s rampage.Angela Charlton and Daniel Cole, “France mourns 3 killed in church attack, tightens security,” Associated Press, October 30, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/tunisia-france-arrests-terrorism-nice-c01aa6dcd34fcf97ad5fcfa2b46bd83f; Bel Trew, “‘He showed no signs of being radicalised’: Family of Nice terror suspect say he gave no clues about violent attack,” Independent, October 29, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nice-terror-attack-tunisia-family-france-suspect-ibrahim-issaoui-b1455858.html.

It is uncertain if Issaoui was motivated to carry out the attack due to a video released a day earlier by Turjuman al-Asawirti, a prominent ISIS operative, who urged ISIS followers to use violence and cut off heads in revenge for the French government’s stance on allowing the publication of controversial cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad. The video was released following French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s republication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad and the October 16 attack in which an ISIS sympathizer decapitated French teacher Samuel Paty for showing caricatures of the Islamic prophet in class as part of a lesson on freedom of speech.Bel Trew, “Extremist video calling for revenge against France released day before Nice attack,” Independent, October 29, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/isis-video-nice-terror-france-islamic-state-telegram-b1428147.html; James McAuley, “Teacher in Paris suburb decapitated, allegedly after showing cartoons of prophet Muhammad in class,” Washington Post, October 16, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/teacher-in-paris-suburb-killed-and-decapitated-allegedly-after-showing-cartoons-of-prophet-mohammad-in-class/2020/10/16/3d4d8be0-0fd5-11eb-b404-8d1e675ec701_story.html.

Issaoui was taken to a hospital to address his wounds and on November 3, tested positive for COVID-19. Issaoui remains hospitalized and has yet to be questioned due to uncertainty surrounding his prognosis.“French church attacker tests positive for Covid-19,” Al Araby, November 3, 2020, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/11/3/french-church-attacker-tests-positive-for-covid-19.

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