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Nice suspect searched for news on Orlando and Dallas, violent videos, prosecutor says

By
Doug G. Ware
Flowers and candles line up the Promenade des Anglais as people mourn after the attack in Nice, France, on Saturday. Authorities said Monday that the suspected perpetrator performed various Internet searches before the bloody attack, including news stories on the mass shootings in Dallas and Orlando as well as violent videos. Photo by Maya Vidon-White/UPI
Flowers and candles line up the Promenade des Anglais as people mourn after the attack in Nice, France, on Saturday. Authorities said Monday that the suspected perpetrator performed various Internet searches before the bloody attack, including news stories on the mass shootings in Dallas and Orlando as well as violent videos. Photo by Maya Vidon-White/UPI | License Photo

NICE, France, July 18 (UPI) -- The man authorities suspect is the culprit behind the terrorist attack in the French Riviera last week performed Internet searches about the mass shootings in Orlando and Dallas before the assault, investigators said Monday.

French officials looking into the background of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel have uncovered the searches, anti-terror prosecutor Fran├žois Molins said at a news conference Monday.

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The web searches are among several suspicious activities officials have found on Bouhlel's computer, Molins said, which also contained apparent interest in previous attacks -- including images of corpses, Islamic State militants, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida African operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

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Bouhlel is accused of running over scores of people in Nice on Friday night during a Bastille Day fireworks display. Eighty-four people died in the attack and more than 250 were injured.

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Molins said so far no evidence has tied Bouhlel to any terrorist organization -- but has painted conflicting portraits of who the 31-year-old Tunisian was.

Investigators say the evidence indicates Bouhlel was not a devout Muslim, much less an Islamic fanatic -- yet he purportedly conducted extensive online research about Muslim phrases and the Quran, and was even in the process of growing a beard for religious purposes, Molins said.

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Authorities aren't certain whether Bouhlel might have had a recent religious change of heart, or whether he may have carried out the deadly attack simply as an attention-seeking endeavor.

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The Islamic State has claimed Bouhlel was one of its "soldiers," but investigators say they aren't ready to believe that yet.

"The painful news of this past month shows that terrorist attacks come either from commandos or cells that carry out attacks," Molins said. ""Support for [militants' encouraging violence], and radicalization, can occur all the more rapidly when they are addressed to disturbed personalities or individuals who are fascinated by extreme violence."

Data from the suspect's computer seem to back up the theory that he wanted attention or was acting out on morbid fantasies. Officials say he searched for videos online with the key phrases, "horrible deadly accident" and "shocking video, not for the faint of heart."

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Three Americans were killed in Thursday's attack -- including 20-year-old Nicolas Leslie, a student at the University of California in Berkeley who was in Nice for a study abroad program. Investigators officially listed him among the dead Monday.

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Three other Berkeley students were injured in the attack.

"This is tragic, devastating news," the university's chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, said in a statement Monday. "All of us in the UC Berkeley family -- both here on campus, and around the world -- are heartbroken to learn that another promising young student has been lost to senseless violence."

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