Truck driver aimed for chil­dren: wit­nesses

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - COLLEEN BARRY AND LORI HINNANT

NICE, FRANCE — France called up thou­sands of re­serve se­cu­rity forces Fri­day as au­thor­i­ties tried to de­ter­mine why a Tu­nisian de­liv­ery­man known only to be a petty crim­i­nal took the wheel of a 19-ton truck and plunged through a ter­ri­fied sea­side crowd on Bastille Day, leav­ing 84 peo­ple dead and more than 200 wounded.

Wit­nesses de­scribed how Mo­hamed Bouh­lel bar­relled his truck in a zigzag path down a crowded Nice prom­e­nade, aim­ing di­rectly for chil­dren, for moth­ers push­ing strollers and for fam­i­lies cow­er­ing be­hind plas­tic benches.

Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande ex­tended a na­tional state of emer­gency that stretched back to the Nov. 13 at­tacks in Paris that killed 130 peo­ple and was claimed by the Is­lamic State group.

The state of emer­gency had been due to be scaled back but in­stead was ex­tended an­other three months. The govern­ment tapped its op­er­a­tional re­serve of 25,000 — com­posed mainly of ex-mil­i­tary or for­mer gen­darmes — to re­lieve its tired of­fi­cers, stretched by month af­ter month of state-of-emer­gency polic­ing.

Hol­lande said the at­tack was “un­de­ni­ably ter­ror­ist in na­ture,” but pros­e­cu­tors said the 31-year-old driver who lived in Nice wasn’t known to in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

No group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for Thurs­day night’s slaugh­ter of tourists and lo­cals pack­ing the up­scale seafront, where an es­ti­mated 30,000 had just watched a Bastille Day fire­works show.

They fanned out to en­joy night­time street artists, ar­cade games and food stalls or strolls back to their ho­tels be­side the gen­tle Mediter­ranean tide. Then Bouh­lel drove his truck into the side­walk and turned a cel­e­bra­tion into a ter­ri­fy­ing dash for sur­vival.

Cyril Croisy said he saw the truck accelerate into the first crowds out­side Nice’s land­mark Ne­gresco Ho­tel, aim­ing straight for a stand sell­ing candy to chil­dren.

He said he tried to help the wounded, in­clud­ing a woman with cat­a­strophic in­juries.

“I was there when her heart stopped,” said Croisy, his eyes welling with tears as he spoke. The 40year-old Parisian suf­fered a bro­ken arm while flee­ing the scene and jump­ing from the pedes­trian prom­e­nade to the beach below.

Among the dead were im­mi­grants and tourists from many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Al­ge­ria, Tu­nisia, Morocco, Ger­many, Rus­sia, Ukraine, Switzer­land and the United States.

French pros­e­cu­tor François Molins said Bouh­lel had a loaded hand­gun, three replica weapons and an empty grenade in the truck, which he had rented three days ear­lier. Po­lice con­sid­ered him a petty crim­i­nal sus­pected since 2010 of var­i­ous threats and acts of theft, van­dal­ism and vi­o­lent con­duct, he said.

In March, he was con­victed for a road-rage crime when he struck an­other mo­torist with a wooden pal­let but re­ceived a sus­pended six­month sen­tence be­cause it was his first proven of­fence.

Molins said Bouh­lel was “to­tally un­known to in­tel­li­gence ser­vices ... and was never placed on a watch list for rad­i­cal­iza­tion.”

GETTY IMAGES

A man re­acts as peo­ple leave trib­utes to the vic­tims of a ter­ror at­tack in Nice, France, that killed at least 84 peo­ple.

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