According to the BBC and Reuters, Aouissaoui arrived by boat on the Italian island of Lampedusa in September. After being released from around coronavirus quarantine, he was told to leave Italy. He would have arrived in France at the beginning of the month.
Aouissaoui was not on the Tunisian list of suspected activists and was not known to French intelligence, Reuters said.
The attack is being treated as an act of terrorism and France has raised its national security alert to the highest level.
Officials say the attack took place Thursday morning at Notre-Dame Basilica in Nice. Two people died inside the church, officials said, at least one of whom was reportedly beheaded. A third person, seriously injured, managed to flee the church but died soon after.
Police also shot dead a man armed with a knife in the city of Avignon, in southern France. And in Saudi Arabia, a man was arrested after injuring a guard outside the French consulate in Jeddah.
The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, called the attack on his city a terrorist incident. He said he was once again a victim of what he called “Islamo-fascism”. He said the suspect, taken to hospital after being injured during a police arrest, kept saying “Allah Akbar” while in detention.
The attack comes as France prepares to enter a new coronavirus lockdown – and after two other recent knives, also blamed on radical Islamists and linked to controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The knives include the beheading of French school teacher Samuel Paty outside of Paris.
More broadly, it appears to mark the latest in a series of Islamic terrorist attacks that have hit France in recent years – including a 2016 jihadist attack in Nice.
President Emmanuel Macron’s recent defense of cartoons depicting the Prophet of Islam Muhammad in the name of free speech has sparked protests and boycotts in a number of Muslim countries. Many Muslims are deeply offended by cartoons. But here in France, thousands of people have rallied in favor of free expression, including several prominent Muslim leaders.
The French National Assembly observed a moment of silence for the latest victims of the attacks, and French Muslim leaders urged worshipers to cancel Thursday’s Mawled celebrations marking the birthday of the Islamic prophet. European and other governments have also sent messages of condolence and condemnation of the Nice attacks.