A Frenchman of Tunisian descent drove a truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day along Nice’s beachfront, killing at least 84 people, many of them children. The slaughter ended only after police killed the armed attacker in a hail of bullets.
French leaders on Friday extended the country’s 9-month-old state of emergency and vowed to deploy thousands of police reservists on the streets after Thursday night’s massacre of pedestrians leaving a fireworks display for France’s national independence day.
Video shot by terrified civilians shows crowds fleeing in panic, leaping off the elevated pavement onto the beach below, and police finally surrounding the stationary truck and fatally shooting its driver.
Wassim Bouhlel, a native of Nice, told The Associated Press he saw a truck drive into the crowd, then its driver emerged with a gun and started shooting.
“There was carnage on the road. Bodies everywhere,” he said.
Lawrence Cannon, the Canadian ambassador to France, wrote on Twitter Friday morning that, to date, no Canadians have been reported among the casualties.
Police identified the attacker as a 31-year-old Nice resident and said he had drawn a gun on them. The truck’s windshield was riddled with bullets.
No group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, but French officials called it an undeniable act of terror. The assault on revelers in the southern French city rocked a nation still dealing with the aftermath of two attacks in Paris last year that killed 147 people and were claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.
“Terrorism is a threat that weighs heavily upon France and will continue to weigh for a long time,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after French President Francois Hollande called an emergency government meeting Friday. “We are facing a war that terrorism has brought to us. The goal of terrorists is to instil fear and panic. And France is a great country, and a great democracy, that will not allow itself to be destabilized.”
Hollande rushed to Nice, 690 kilometres (490 miles) south of Paris, to offer his condolences after the emergency meeting.
“France was struck on the day of its national holiday, July 14, the symbol of liberty,” Hollande said Friday, denouncing “this monstrosity” — a truck bearing down on citizens “with the intention of killing, smashing and massacring.”
(Associated Press/Global News)