The day after, the truck that ploughed into spectators in Nice
Eric Galliano and Grégory Leclerc

NICE â€" There are still more questions than answers three days after Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a 20-ton truck through hundreds gathered to see the Bastille Day fireworks on the city's waterfront, killing 84 people and injuring more than 200, before being shot dead by police.

Still, a portrait of the 31-year-old divorced father of three is emerging, as authorities probe his movements, activities and the people with whom he was in contact in the days and weeks leading up to the attack.

Bouhlel was born in Tunisia but had a permit to live and work in France. He was a delivery driver known to the police as a petty criminal who had run-ins with the law since 2010 for theft and acts of violence, including incidents involving a gun.

Sources tell Nice-Matin that Bouhel had been in the midst of moving houses, which he used as an excuse to justify renting the large truck. The recent DAF model LF was equipped with control devices that provide information on the driver's movements and actions, which investigators have already analyzed to obtain further information on the the routes he took.

These devices and the images from the CCTV footage show that the attacks were clearly planned ahead of time, as Bouhlel had scouted out the famous waterfront Promenade des Anglais on the two days before the attack.

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel's residential permit â€" Photo: French national police

The transport company where he worked describe somone who often would forget his keys in the truck or leave the headlights on all night. He was described as "often nervous" and "absent-minded."

One recent action in particular has drawn the attention of investigators. On July 6, Bouhlel transfered 24 euros ($26) to a website, under the heading "Islam" on his bank statement. He was not a religious man, however, these last months, he appeared to have taken a major interest in his Muslim roots. The hard disk of his computer showed that, shortly before the attack, he visited several sites of jihadist propaganda.

Accomplices, ideology

Among the unanswered questions. Did Bouhlel get external help? Did he have accomplices? Was it really in the name of the ISIS terrorist organization?

As has been reported, ISIS has claimed Bouhlel was one of its soldiers, but did he receive a direct order from the terror group, or was he inspired by their ideology?

French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve stated that "it seems he became radicalized very quickly." French authorities had never opened a security file on Bouhlel because he had no known ties to any terrorist or jihadist group.

President Francois Hollande said on Friday that it was "an attack whose terrorist nature cannot be denied."

To help find some anwsers, French authorities detained six people in connection with the attacks. Bouhlel's estranged wife was detained at her apartment Friday and released Sunday morning without charge. Henaj, a man who supposedly sold a gun that the driver carried in the truck, along with two replica assault rifles and a dummy grenade was arrested Sunday along with his wife.

Only hours before the Nice attack, Hollande had announced that France's state of emergency that had been instituted after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris would be removed later this month. After the attack in Nice, Hollande quickly changed course, announcing the special security measures were now being extended for another three months.

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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