Truck massacre in Nice causes shame and fear in Tunisian town

Sunday 24/07/2016
Minute of silence in memory of Nice attack victims

MSAKEN (Tunisia) - For many Tunisians in the coastal town of Msaken, livelihoods have for about half a century depended on ties to the French city of Nice, just across the Mediterra­nean.

“People feel that Msaken is part of Nice,” said Dr Jalal Rouiss, a phy­sician in the town.

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the perpetrator of the July 14th at­tack in Nice that killed 84 people, was from Msaken and his crime has brought shame on the city. About 30,000 of Msaken’s 80,000 citizens work in France and many of them are concerned about the future.

“I’m ashamed of what he did. It is a big blow. I do not know what will be the colour of my face when I meet French friends back in Nice when I return there,” said Slimane Hmila, who has divided his time between Nice and Msaken since re­tiring as a master carpenter.

“This criminal mind has struck a human bridge between France and Tunisia. Generations of migrants from Msaken built solid ties with Nice through hard work and good behaviour,” Hmila said.

Ahmed Sellami, a waiter at a café near the main square in Msaken, said: “We are paying the price al­ready and very quickly. At this time of the year, most of the migrants would have normally returned to Msaken. You would see that by the number of cars with Nice plates. This holiday season, few are return­ing because of fear they will not be let back in France or that anti-im­migration French extremists could attack their homes in Nice.”

Emotions are running high in France after the third major ter­rorist attack in about 18 months. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was booed and heckled at a ceremony of remembrance for the July 14th victims during a visit to Nice on July 18th.

The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack by Bouhlel, 31, who used a truck to mow down people leaving a Bastille Day fireworks show. More than one-third of the victims were Muslims, including four Tunisians.

Bouhlel’s computer contained pictures of mutilated corpses and militants posing with the ISIS flag, French investigators said. He was killed by police after he had driven the truck for 2km through crowds along the Nice seafront.

In his home town, Bouhlel was widely portrayed as a sick man whose mental instability may have been manipulated by unscrupulous ISIS operatives.

“No one remembers him praying in a mosque here,” said Dr Omar Hmila, a physician at Msaken’s hos­pital. “There are 90 mosques here. His tormented mind offered an op­portunity to a mischievous terrorist who manipulated him to carry out his despicable action.”

Dr Shamseddine Hamouda, a psychiatrist in the neighbouring city of Sousse who said he treated Bouhlel in 2004, said he had diag­nosed him with an impulsive/ag­gressive personality disorder and prescribed medication for him. Such patients suffer interpersonal conflict, disruptive relationships and occupational failure, psychia­trists say.

“Whatever the motive of the at­tack, Msaken will suffer from the blow. The city emerged from a small village to a modern city since people began migrating to France late in the 1950s,” said Omar Hmila, who grew up in Msaken.

“These migrants brought back modernity to a city, which is con­servative. Beautiful villas were built here with modern ways of living, life and thinking,” said Jalal Rouiss.

Some marry relatives in Nice to get work and residence permits in France. Bouhlel did exactly that in 2005 when he married one of his cousins.

Samira, 21, married a cousin in Nice two months ago. She said she worries that France might toughen restrictions, making it harder for people like her get residence per­mits to join their spouses.

“It is a nightmare for me since the attack by this insane person. I wor­ry that France could change rules and I will be stuck here while my husband is there,” said Samira as she left a doctor’s office where she was seeking a medical certificate, which is required for a French resi­dence permit.