Described by his neighbours as a handsome but frightening man, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who killed at least 84 people in the French city of Nice by driving his truck into a crowd late on Thursday, was convicted only once before: for road rage.

Bouhlel ploughed a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the French Riviera, in what President Francois Hollande called a terrorist act by an enemy determined to strike all nations that share France’s values.

While he had several run-ins with the law previously, Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Nice resident born in Tunisia, was not on a watch list of French intelligence services as a suspected militant.

He was convicted for the first time in March this year, French justice minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said.

“There was an altercation between him and another driver and he hurled a wooden pallet at the man,” Urvoas told reporters.

As it was his first conviction, Bouhlel was given a suspended sentence and had to contact police once a week, which he did, Urvoas added.

Tunisian security sources told Reuters that Bouhlel had last visited his hometown of Msaken, about 120km south of Tunis, four years ago.

He was married with three children, but had marital problems, the Tunisian sources said. He was not known by the Tunisian authorities to hold radical or Islamist views, and had held a French residence permit for the past 10 years without obtaining French nationality, Tunisian sources said.

Neighbours in the residential neighbourhood in northern Nice where Bouhlel lived said he had a tense personality and did not mingle with others.

“I would say he was someone who was pleasing to women,” said neighbour Hanan, standing in the lobby of the apartment building where Bouhlel lived.

Bodies of victims covered by sheets at the scene of a truck attack in Nice. People were forced to flee into the sea as the truck bore down for more than a mile along the famed promenade. Picture: AP/Luca Bruno
Bodies of victims covered by sheets at the scene of a truck attack in Nice. People were forced to flee into the sea as the truck bore down for more than a mile along the famed promenade. Picture: AP/Luca Bruno

“But he was frightening. He didn’t have a frightening face, but ... a look. He would stare at the children a lot,” he added.

His home town Msaken is about 10km outside the coastal city of Sousse, where a gunman killed 38 people, mostly British holidaymakers, on a beach a year ago.

Many residents of the town have migrated to Nice, where the Tunisian community numbers about 130,000 people, according to Tunisian state news agency Tap.

The Tunisian government issued a statement condemning Thursday’s attack “in the strongest possible terms”.

Bouhlel was involved in a pub brawl in January and had been on parole for an incident in which he fell asleep at the wheel of a car and crashed into four vehicles on a highway, it was claimed by Spanish media outlets.

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