Tunisian family of alleged Nice knifeman in disbelief over attack

French policemen patrol on top of the Montmartre hill in Paris on October 30, 2020 as France's security forces are on high alert ahead of the All Saints Catholic holiday after a string of attacks blamed on suspected Islamists in recent weeks. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 31 October 2020

Tunisian family of alleged Nice knifeman in disbelief over attack

  • Issaoui had already tried once before to reach Europe, and did not tell his family he was making another attempt, according to his brother

SFAX/TUNISIA: The family of a man detained for killing three churchgoers in France weeks after leaving his home in Tunisia has told AFP they are struggling to believe he carried out the attack.
“It’s not normal,” said Brahim Issaoui’s brother Yassine, incredulous that his sibling was responsible for the attack, which came amid widespread anger among Muslims over comments by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron had strongly defended secular values and the right to mock religion after a French schoolteacher, who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad deemed offensive to Muslims, was murdered earlier this month in a Paris suburb.
Issaoui, 21, is in serious condition after being shot multiple times by police in the aftermath of Thursday’s brutal knife attack in the southern city of Nice. Born to a family of modest means in the central Tunisian city of Sfax, Issaoui had turned to religion and isolated himself in the past two years, his relatives told AFP.
“He prayed ... (and) went from home to work and back, not mixing with others or leaving the house,” said his mother, crying as she clutched a passport photo of the young man in a white hoodie.
But before that “he drank alcohol and used drugs. 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’,” she added
Tunisia, where before a 2011 revolution, authorities controlled the practicing of religion and repressed dissent, saw a rise in radical Islam after the uprising and a wave of jihadist attacks in 2015.
While the security situation has greatly improved, sporadic attacks still take place, targeting security forces in particular.
One of 11 siblings, Issaoui lived with his parents in a modest house on a potholed road in a working class neighborhood near an industrial zone on the outskirts of Sfax.
His mother said her son had dropped out of high school and had worked as a motorcycle mechanic.
Having put some money aside, he opened an unlicensed petrol station, similar to those found across Tunisia, where most economic activity takes place on the margins of the official system.
“I told him to rent a small shop with the 1,100 to 1,200 dinars (around $400 which he had saved) in order to be able to work,” said his mother, who did not want to give her name.
“He told me he wanted to set up a stall to sell petrol.”
Issaoui joined a wave of Tunisians departing for Italy that has grown in recent months due to the combined pressures of the Covid-19 crisis, which has exacerbated already soaring unemployment, and a political crisis.
The number of Tunisians emigrating illegally to Italy reached a record 20,000 after the 2011 revolution, before falling sharply. The number of arrivals has been on the rise again since 2017.
Issaoui had already tried once before to reach Europe, and did not tell his family he was making another attempt, according to his brother.
After successfully reaching Italy and finding work harvesting olives, his brother added, he made his way to France.
“He said he went to France because it was better for work and there were too many people in Italy,” Yassine said.
The family said he called the evening of October 28, the day before the attack, telling them he had just arrived in the country.
Incredulous, they said they could not understand how he would be able to carry out the attack in Nice just a few hours after arriving in France.
While many Tunisians condemned Macron’s statements on Islam, it sparked debate on freedom of speech — seen as one of the most solid achievements of the country’s 2011 revolution.


Algeria president to return ‘within days’ from German hospital

Updated 35 min 43 sec ago

Algeria president to return ‘within days’ from German hospital

  • The presidency said Tebboune had left the hospital and was having a ‘period of convalescence’ as recommended by his medical team
  • Tebboune, who is 75 and a heavy smoker, was admitted to hospital in Germany on October 28 to undergo ‘in-depth medical examinations’

ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is to return home within days after a month of hospitalization in Germany with coronavirus, his office said Monday.
“The president of the republic assures the Algerian people about his health, that he is on the way to recovery and will be returning home in the coming days,” it said in a statement.
The presidency said Tebboune had left the hospital and was having a “period of convalescence” as recommended by his medical team. It gave no other details.
Tebboune, who is 75 and a heavy smoker, was admitted to hospital in Germany on October 28 to undergo “in-depth medical examinations,” according to the presidency.
He was transferred from a facility in the Algerian capital days after going into self-isolation following reports of novel coronavirus cases among his aides.
A day before he was transferred abroad, the presidency said Tebboune’s “state of health does not raise any concern” but a week later it announced he had contracted Covid-19.
While he was still in hospital in Germany, his office also said the president had finished his treatment and was undergoing “post-protocol medical tests.”
But updates on his medical condition have been irregular and his lengthy absence fueled speculation and fears of a political vacuum.
Monday’s statement was the first released by his office since mid-November.