The mind and terror, from Lugano to Nice

The Paris trial for the largest attack ever committed by a single individual in a Western country opens today without the accused, without real accomplices and without much clarity on the motive. The perpetrator of the massacre, the 31-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, was killed by the police while on his 19-ton truck he had already traveled almost two kilometers, leaving a trail of 86 dead on the “Promenade des Anglais” in Nice. The crime scene report is an endless list of body shreds, smashed skulls, baby bottles, crushed prams. Two months after the conclusion of the Bataclan massacre trial, France relives what the newspaper Le Monde defines as “an ocean of pain” for the massacre committed the following year, it was 2016, right at the end of the fireworks for the national holiday of July 14th.

In some respects, with all due proportions and due caution, the hearings at the Court of Assizes of the Palais de Justice will recall the outlines of the issues that were posed to the Court of the Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona in the trial just concluded against the 29-year-old who stabbed two women at the Manor in Lugano in November two years ago: the dilemma that poses the relationship, sometimes extremely problematic to decrypt, between terrorism and mental health, between religious radicalization and mental disorders, between psychopathology and ideological violence.

The perpetrator of the Nice massacre (as well as the eight accused present in the courtroom, not considered accomplices, but who will have to answer for minor crimes) was not radicalized. Only in the last few days he had begun to listen to the suras of the Koran, watched videos of executions and jihadist attacks, read numerous ISIS press releases on the web. The Islamic State itself, 36 hours after the Nice massacre, had claimed its matrix, but as in the case of the attack a month earlier on the gay club in Orlando by a young American of Afghan origin who killed 49 people, the investigators consider this to be pure opportunism. That Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s profile was closer to that of a psychopath, a perverse and sadistic disturbed personality, than that of an Islamist militant is evident from the documents of the investigation. La di lui is a story of violence and mental distress: two suicide attempts as a teenager, an attempt at self-abstraction, violence against his wife on whom he urinated after beating her, repeated problems with alcohol and violence. In the cabin of the truck besides a semiautomatic pistol with which he had opened fire, four rifles and plastic grenades on which no explanations can be given. “He was neither a believer, nor a practitioner and ate pork”, the acquaintances recall.

Can we therefore consider Bouhlel a lone wolf “soldier of the Caliphate”, converted at the last minute into his anti-Western hatred, as Isis claims? It is very probable that the three and a half months of the mega trial (865 persons pleading in civil action, over 250 witnesses) will not provide a definitive answer. Also because Islamist extremism is well reconciled with those mental disorders in which the maladjusted individual seeks at the same time a radical sedition against the established order, and a new higher order in which he can find comfort. This is one of the greatest pitfalls of religious terrorism.

The mind and terror, from Lugano to Nice