Terror hits France again
PARIS—A Bastille Day fireworks celebration was shattered by death and mayhem on Thursday night in the southern French city of Nice when a large truck barreled for more than 2 kilometers through an enormous crowd of spectators, crushing and maiming dozens in what President François Hollande called a terrorist assault.
It came eight months after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, traumatizing the nation and all of Europe.
Officials and witnesses in Nice said at least 84 people, including children, were killed by the driver of the rampaging truck, who mowed them down on the sidewalk.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 18 people were in critical condition in hospitals.
Many more were also wounded in the attack along the famed seafront Promenade des Anglais as the fireworks ended just after 10:30 p.m.
The driver was shot dead by the police as officers scrambled to respond on what is France’s most important annual holiday.
A local official said the driver fired a pistol several times before being shot dead by police.
“At the moment that he was shot dead by police, he had fired several times,” the official said.
Authorities said they found identity papers belonging to a 31-year-old French-Tunisian citizen in the 19-ton truck, as well as “guns” and “larger weapons.”
Graphic television and video images showed the truck accelerating and tearing through the crowd, dozens of victims sprawled in its path, and the bullet-riddled windshield of the vehicle.
Municipal officials and police officers described the truck as full of weapons and grenades.
“The horror, the horror has, once again, hit France,” Hollande said in a nationally televised address early Friday.
He said the “terrorist character” of the assault was undeniable, and he described the use of a large truck to deliberately kill people as “a monstrosity.”
“France has been struck on the day of her national holiday,” he said. “Human rights are denied by fanatics, and France is clearly their target.”
He said several children were among the dead after the attack, which he said was of an “undeniable terrorist nature.”
Hollande, who only hours earlier had proclaimed the impending end of a state of national emergency on July 26, said that the measure would be extended by three months and that additional soldiers would be deployed for security.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack in the resort city, Hollande vowed to strengthen his country’s role in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.
“Nothing will make us yield in our will to fight terrorism. We will further strengthen our actions in Iraq and Syria. We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil,” he said, in reference to IS.
French officials quickly concluded that terrorism was the likely motive, as the scope of the slaughter grew clear.
The use of a large commercial truck as the principal weapon of death raised new questions about how to prevent such attacks.
The officials warned residents to stay indoors and canceled all further scheduled festivities in Nice, a seaside city of 340,000, including a five-day jazz festival and a concert on Friday night by Rihanna.
“There are numerous victims,” said Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, on BFM Television. “It’s a tragic, exceptional situation.”
World condemns attack
Politicians from around the world reacted with horror after the attack.
US President Barack Obama condemned what he said appeared to be a “horrific terrorist attack.”
“We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack,” he said in a statement. “On this Bastille Day, we are reminded of the extraordinary resilience and democratic values that have made France an inspiration to the entire world.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been in Paris earlier in the day for a Bastille Day parade, said: “The United States will continue to stand firmly with the French people during this time of tragedy. We will provide whatever support is needed.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter: “Canadians are shocked by tonight’s attack in Nice. Our sympathy is with the victims and our solidarity with the French people.”
A spokesperson for new British Prime Minister Theresa May called the attack “a terrible incident,” adding, “We are shocked and concerned.”
Boris Johnson, whose first engagement as Britain’s new foreign secretary was at the French ambassador’s Bastille Day party in London, said on Twitter: “Shocked and saddened by the appalling events in Nice, and the terrible loss of life.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that he was “sickened by news of another senseless attack.”
European Council President Donald Tusk called it “a sad day for France, for Europe.”
He said it was “tragic” that “the subjects of the attack were people celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity.”
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang offered his “condolences” to the victims and said China opposed all forms of terrorism.
The United Nations Security Council called the attack “barbaric and cowardly.”
The council reaffirmed that terrorism constitutes one of the most serious threats to world peace and security.
“Any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable,” said the statement from the 15 council members.
Latin American leaders also condemned the carnage, with Brazilian Interim President Michel Temer declaring: “Today, more than ever, we are all French.”
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said he was sending France “a hug” after “a tragedy caused by insanity.”
Leaders and representatives of governments from Ireland to Indonesia attending the Asia-Europe Meeting held a minute’s silence for the victims at the opening of the summit in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on Friday.
Scenes of pandemonium
The Mediterranean city of Nice, with its pebble beaches and clear blue water, has been a magnet for sunseekers and the jet set since the 19th century.
Witnesses described scenes of pandemonium, with conflicting accounts on social media, including a false report of hostage-taking in Nice.
“We were enjoying the celebrations when we suddenly saw people running everywhere and tables being pushed down by the movement of panic,” said Daphne Burandé, 15, who was at a bar near the beach to watch the fireworks.
“No one explained to us what was happening, and I heard some gunshots not very far away,” she said. “I waited at the bar for more information because I thought it was a false alert. But then, people were still running.”
The main strip through Nice was littered with bodies, one after the other.
A witness named Nader told BFM television he had seen the whole attack from start to finish, and had initially thought the driver had “lost control.”
“I was in the street. He stopped just in front of me after he [crushed] a lot of people. I saw a guy in the street, we were trying to speak to the driver to get him to stop,” Nader said in broken English.
“He looked nervous. There was a girl under the car, he smashed her. The guy next to me pulled her out,” he said.
Nader said he saw the driver pull out a gun and start shooting at police.
“They killed him and his head was out the window,” he said.
“Whatever the nature of what happened in Nice, the threat of terrorism is particularly high,” Brandet said on the iTele television station. He added that security forces were on high alert in the area and in cities around France.
Dozens of people were seriously injured and many more were psychologically shocked, Brandet said.
The region has activated a so-called White Plan, put in place during the Nov. 13 Paris terrorist attacks that killed 130 people, to open all emergency rooms to receive victims, he added.
Was it IS?
IS, which asserted responsibility for the attacks in Paris, did not make any immediate claim for the Nice assault.
It typically takes IS several hours, and sometimes up to one and even two days, to assert responsibility for attacks on Western countries. It typcially does so through its Amaq channel on the encrypted telephone app Telegram, which serves as the group’s news wire.
But, as in the hours immediately after the Paris, Brussels and Orlando attacks, there was a now familiar celebration on channels run by groups that support IS, as well as on at least one channel affiliated with the group, also known as Isis and Isil. They cheered the carnage.
On a channel created on Thursday, called the United Cyber Caliphate, run by a group that has previously tried to carry out cyberattacks in IS’s name, a message included a single word—France—followed by a smiley face.
The channel of an IS member, Aswarti Media, which has repeatedly been shut down and claims 1,987 members, was posting the phrase “Allahu akbar.”
Yet another suspected pro-IS channel showed an image of the Eiffel Tower going up in flames.
The Nice attack took place just as the Euro 2016 soccer tournament had concluded.
France had hosted the tournament, and the entire country had been on high alert.
There had been reports that suspects linked to the attacks in Paris and the Brussels assault in March had planned an attack during the tournament.
With tens of thousands of people gathered at stadiums and in designated “fan zones” during the games, the police and private security took extraordinary measures to try to secure the sites.
It was difficult to know if the measures were successful or if in fact there were no plans to attack the soccer tournament.
One question people will be asking is whether the security forces, as well as civilians, let their guard down once the tournament was over thinking that the danger had passed.
Several witnesses spoke on iTele. A man who gave his name as Michel, working at Voilier Plage restaurant in front of Promenade des Anglais, said that around 10:30 p.m., a large white truck drove into a crowd that had gathered near the beach.
“A huge number of people started running, then there was a lot of gunfire,” he said.
Another witness who owns a restaurant nearby, whom iTele did not identify, said that when the truck plowed into the crowd, it “crushed everyone in its path.”
French television showed footage of a panicked crowd running from the scene.
On Twitter, witnesses posted grim photographs of bodies lying in a pile on the asphalt. Reports from New York Times News Service, AFP
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