The woman who was beheaded in the Nice terror attack was a kind-hearted devout catholic, it emerged today.
Married Nadine Devillers, 60, was the first person attacked by knifeman Brahim Aoussaoui, 21, who slit her throat near the baptismal font in an attempted beheading, before continuing his rampage to kill two others at the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption church on Thursday.
After he tried to decapitate Devillers, Aoussaoui hacked 54-year-old sacristan Vincent Loques to death as he prepared for the first Mass of the day.
Brazilian-born Simone Barreto Silva, 44, was then stabbed multiple times but managed to escape the church, running to a nearby burger bar where she succumbed to her injuries. The mother-of-three’s last words to paramedics were: ‘Tell my children that I love them’.
On arrival, French police shot Aoussaoui 14 times as he screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is greatest in Arabic – a phrase he kept shouting even after being sedated and put into an ambulance.
Deviller’s husband broke down in tears today when he confirmed that his wife had died in such terrible circumstances during a desperate phone call from her childhood friend Joelle Guichard.
Guichard, who was friends Deviller for 30 years, told Var Matin newspaper: ‘She was kindness with a capital K.
Nice terror attack victim Nadine Devillers, 60, is pictured in a photograph before the horrific incident on Thursday. Nadine’s husband broke down in tears when he confirmed his wife had died in such terrible circumstances
‘We have been friends for 30 years. I heard about the horror in Nice. I immediately thought of Nadine.
‘She lives not far from the cathedral and she is a devout catholic. I took my phone to call her. I saw I had a missed call, it was Nadine’s husband.
‘As soon as he picked up the phone, when I heard his sobs, I understood.
‘Is it her?, I asked. ‘”Yes,” he replied. “It is her”.
‘”It’s an absolute nightmare”, he added.’
The two women had grown up in Draguignan, a town in the Var region, west of Nice.
Joelle, added: ‘Nadine left for Nice aged 18. She had a strong and pure heart.’
Ms Guichard moved to Quebec, Canada, but they stayed in touch with regular phone calls.
Security forces guard the area after a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France yesterday
Anti-terrorist police raided a rented apartment in a poor part of Nice as part of their operation to track down France-based conspirators to the deadly knife attack at the Notre Dame church today.
Witnesses told how ‘dozens of officers’ swarmed into the tiny street before entering the ground floor apartment looking for two men who had contact with Aouissaoui before his deadly assault.
Two men – aged 47 and 35 – were arrested at the flat and remain in custody and are accused of helping Tunisian Aouissaoui carry out the atrocity that killed three.
One witness told MailOnline: ‘I came back from work last night and all of a sudden there were police everywhere – dozens of them.
‘They went into the building next door. It’s split into lots of different apartments. I asked what was going on but they would not tell me anything.’
Another homeowner added: ‘There were lots of police, dozens of officers. I looked out of the window and I could see them all over the street – uniformed, plain clothes and officers with machine guns.
General view of the house on Avenue Philippe Adreani in Nice, where two people where arrested this afternoon in connection with helping Brahim Aouissaui
‘I went on to the balcony to see what was going on but the police told me to go back inside. I didn’t see who the police arrested. But normally a woman lives in that apartment. She is a single mother with three children.
‘She is Tunisian I think.’
French investigators said today they believe the vicious knife attack was planned and organised from abroad.
The profile of the attacker, the identity of his contacts and the speed of the attack suggest the atrocity had been planned in advance by committed jihadists, Le Parisien newspaper reported this morning.
It said: ‘After the killings on Thursday at Notre-Dame de l’Assomption Basillica, the provenance, profile, contacts and rapid act of the alleged assailant are questioning investigators.’
Meanwhile anti-terrorist police arrested a third man in connection with the atrocity.
The suspect, a 35-year-old from a run-down part of Nice, is alleged to have ‘rubbed shoulders with the perpetrator the day before the attack’, according to judicial sources.
The man was arrested at home in Nice North after 10pm last night.
He is believed to have close links to the 47-year-old who was arrested on Thursday night nearby.
Yesterday, the Tunisian terrorist’s family revealed the knife attacker had turned to a hermit-like life of prayer following a lifestyle of drink and drugs before the atrocity.
In a little over six weeks, Aoussaoui travelled from Tunisia, into Italy via Lampedusa, was taken to the mainland, and released by Italian authorities under deportation order. From there, it is thought he caught a train to Paris, where he stayed for a little over two weeks, before going to Nice and launching his attack
Nice terrorist Brahim Aoussaoui is seen in a photograph taken at the Italian port city of Bari, where he disembarked from a coronavirus quarantine ship on October 8 – marking his arrival in mainland Europe
Another image of Aouissaoui is held by his mother in the Tunisian province of Sfax, where she revealed that she had begged her son not to travel to France
Speaking from Sfax, Tunisia, the attacker’s mother said Aoussaoui had left school and worked as a motorcycle mechanic, at first spending his wages on alcohol and drugs.
She told the Telegraph: ‘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”.’
But over the last two and a half years he became increasingly religious and isolated.
‘He prayed [and] went from home to work and back, not mixing with others or leaving the house,’ his mother said.
His brother Yassine said that Aoussaoui worked harvesting olives in Italy after leaving Tunisia, then went on to France.
On the day before the attack, October 28, he called the family to say he had just arrived in the country and would be sleeping in front of the church – sending a photograph of himself at the cathedral that would be the location of the attack.
‘He didn’t tell me anything,’ said Yassine. He added that he did not understand how he could carry out the Nice attack so soon after arriving in France.
The country’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that the attacker ‘wasn’t on any of our security watchlists, either French or European,’ and added that France was ‘at war with Islamist extremism… an enemy that is both internal and external’.
Brahim Aoussaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant, receives medical treatment after killing three worshippers
He told RTL radio: ‘We need to understand that there have been and there will be other events such as these terrible attacks.’
Mr Darmanin said after a top-level security meeting that 3,500 reserves in France’s gendarme force would be called up to give local authorities a total of 7,000 members of the security forces at their disposal to ensure security.
Some 4,000 additional French troops will also be mobilised from next week to raise the numbers taking part in the ongoing Sentinelle security operation to 7,000, the army confirmed.
Aoussaoui left his family’s impoverished village of Bou Hajla in Tunisia on or around September 15, according to the country’s judiciary spokesman, having paid smugglers to take him to Europe.
Five days later he landed with 28 other migrants on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, where records show he was placed into a coronavirus quarantine centre.
On September 25, he was transferred from the centre to a quarantine ship, the Rhapsody, which set sail for the port city of Bari, on Italy’s eastern coast.
The ship moored offshore while the migrants waited out the quarantine, with disembarkation beginning on October 8. Aoussaoui was among those disembarked, with his fingerprints, name, and date of birth noted.
Border officials also took his photograph – which shows him smiling while holding up a card with the number ‘104’ printed on it. It captures the moment Aoussaoui entered mainland Europe.
Officials also carried out background checks, which Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reports came back clean. They found Aoussaoui had no criminal background, had not tried to enter the country before, and was not on any international watch-list.
Nevertheless, Aoussaoui was deemed to have no legal right to enter Europe, and was served with a deportation order which gave him seven days to leave Italy.
What happened next is now the subject of an investigation. Despite being under deportation order, it seems Aoussaoui was freed by Italian immigration officials. He did not head back to Tunisia, but instead went to France.
Corriere reports that border officials had split the migrants into three groups – the first was 104 adults who had criminal backgrounds or other reasons for suspicion, who were taken to a detention centre.
The second, a group of 177, almost half of whom were children, who were placed in shelters. A third group of 104 individuals, of which Aoussaoui was a part, were not sent to a detention centre or shelter – leaving them free to go.
French security sources have also suggested that Aoussaoui was due to be deported, but Tunisia wouldn’t recognise him as a citizen. Amid the confusion, he simply walked out of detention.
Investigations are now underway in France, Italy and Tunisia to establish the exact chain of events.
From here, Aoussaoui’s movements become less clear. Some time between October 9 and 10, it appears he departed Bari for Paris on a train, allowing him to skirt French border checks.
After arriving in Paris, his movements and contacts are a mystery. But it is thought he stayed in and around the city until October 29, the day of the Nice attack.
That morning, took an early train to Nice, arriving in the city at 6.30am, according to French investigators.
He is known to have taken a photo of the Notre Dame basilica – the same church he would later attack – using a phone to send it to his brother back in Tunisia, saying he wanted to spend the night there.