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A placard is seen near the site where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ran a truck into a crowd at high speed, killing more than 80 people and injuring hundreds more, in Nice, France, July 15, 2016. (REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol)

From love to hate

Nice attack: Wife of killer Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel faces “mob justice”

By Emma-Kate Symons on July 21, 2016

Hajer Khalfallah, the estranged wife of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel — the man killed by police as he mowed a truck over families and Bastille Day revelers on the Nice beachfront last Thursday — is reportedly living in fear, chased out of her home by local mobs clamoring for retribution.

Her crime? To be the single mother of Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s three children and unaware her sadistically violent former husband — who beat her repeatedly, and is said to have defecated on their daughter’s bed and stabbed her soft toys until the stuffing fell out — was on the path to radical Islamist terrorism.

Lawyer Jean-Yves Garino, who eventually “rescued” his client and took her to a secret safe place, told Liberation newspaper that Khalfallah was in shock when she emerged from 48 hours of detention and learned the extent of the carnage wreaked by Lahouaiej Bouhlel, suddenly revealed as a terrorist and mass murderer.

A reproduction of the photo on the residence permit of killer Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. (French police source/AFP/Getty Images)
The photo on the residence permit of killer Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. (French police source/AFP/Getty Images)

At the same time, the young mother had to deal with the arrival of groups of angry people outside her house, demanding she too pay for the crimes of the man she had been in the process of divorcing. Garino told La Croix newspaper that the groups calling for Khalfallah punishment were not her neighbors — they had come from outside her local area.

“People were under her windows and standing at the bottom of her building — it was mob justice,” Garino told Liberation. “Because of physical threats, the police needed to be called to intervene. My client has been given shelter in a safe place with her children. She is not living in her neighborhood … I evacuated her. She is surrounded by her family.

“Of course she realizes that she is the mother of three children who carry his name. She was in a stunned state, also, because she herself had been the victim of her husband’s violence.

“But no charge has been laid against her. She is on the receiving end of pressure from other citizens who consider her guilty.”

Khalfallah’s lawyer said she had suffered multiple attacks from her husband in the form of physical violence and harassment.

The single mom, who only decided at the last minute not to go to the deadly Bastille Day fireworks with her children, had attended the police station on multiple occasions to report Bouhlel’s acts of violence, and alerts were also given to law enforcement officials by social workers.

The name Mohamed Lahoualej Bouhlel is seen on a plate outside the building where he lived in Nice, France, July 17, 2016. Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, aged 31, was the driver of the heavy truck that ran into a crowd in an attack along the Promenade des Anglais on Bastille Day killing scores and injuring as many. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RTSID6P
The front door of the apartment where Mohamed Lahoualej Bouhlel moved after separating from his wife. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

The pair met in Tunisia where Lahouaiej Bouhlel was born and lived until he was 21. They were cousins. Later they married and in 2009 he received a 10-year French residency card, thanks to Khalfallah’s citizenship.

A divorce procedure was underway when he was killed, and she had “struggled to get him to leave the marital home after his beatings,” until he eventually moved on last year.

Despite the violence Khalfallah still looked upon her husband before the attack with “eyes of love,” Garino said. “She had three children with him who were 5, 3 and ten months old, so she could not have an objective view of her spouse.”

Asked if Khalfallah’s attitude had changed the lawyer replied: “Of course it has changed. Love has been transformed into hate.”

“Stupefied” when she heard of the attack, Khalfallah’s lawyer said she had not noticed signs of Lahouaiej Bouhlel radicalization “because she saw him very little.”

“Because of his violence, he always met the children in a public space where there were people around,” Garino said. “The meetings were spaced out. She went to a public place like a garden in the center of Nice.”

The crowd gathering on the Promenade des Anglais during a minute of silence on the third day of national mourning to pay tribute to victims of the truck attack in Nice, France, July 18, 2016. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)
A crowd gathers on the Promenade des Anglais to mark a minute of silence, on the third day of national mourning to pay tribute to victims of the truck attack in Nice, France, July 18, 2016. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

Lahouaiej Bouhlel had also been violent towards Khalfallah’s mother, and she reported the attacks to police.

The killer’s in-laws, who lived near their daughter’s former apartment, are now holed up in their homes due to threats and displays of hate by groups of angry people who suspect them of being complicit in the attack.

Neighbors told Europe 1 Khalfallah’s parents were “wracked with fear.”

“I haven’t seen them for three days, since they came out of the police station. It’s understandable — they are traumatized and no longer safe,” said one neighbor. “But they are a great family, very respectful and were never involved in any trouble.”


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