Prom­e­nade of blood and fear

French reel in wake of at­tack

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - SO­PHIE SASSARD and MICHEL BERNOUIN

NICE: French author­i­ties are try­ing to de­ter­mine whether a Tu­nisian who killed at least 84 peo­ple by plough­ing a truck into Bastille Day crowds acted alone or with ac­com­plices, but said the at­tack bore the hall­marks of Is­lamist mil­i­tants.

Thurs­day night’s at­tack in the Riviera city of Nice plunged France again into grief and fear just eight months af­ter gun­men killed 130 peo­ple in Paris. Those at­tacks, and one in Brus­sels four months ago, have shocked Western Europe, al­ready anx­ious over se­cu­rity chal­lenges from mass im­mi­gra­tion, open bor­ders and pock­ets of Is­lamist rad­i­cal­ism.

The truck zig-zagged along the city’s seafront Prom­e­nade des Anglais as a fire­works dis­play mark­ing the French na­tional day ended on Thurs­day night. It ca­reered into fam­i­lies and friends lis­ten­ing to an orches­tra or strolling above the Mediter­ranean beach to­wards the cen­tury-old Ho­tel Ne­gresco.

At least 10 chil­dren were among the dead and an­other 50 were treated in hospi­tal. Of the scores of in­jured, 25 were on life sup­port, author­i­ties said yes­ter­day.

By­stander Franck Si­doli said he had seen peo­ple go down be­fore the truck fi­nally stopped just 5m away from him.

“A woman was there, she lost her son. Her son was on the ground, bleed­ing,” he said.

The driver, 31- year- old Mo­hamed La­houaiej Bouh­lel, shot dead by of­fi­cers at the scene, was known to po­lice for petty crimes but was not on a watch list of sus­pected mil­i­tants.

He had one crim­i­nal conviction for road rage, sen­tenced to pro­ba­tion three months ago for throw­ing a wooden pal­let at an­other driver.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion “will try to de­ter­mine whether he ben­e­fited from ac­com­plices”, Paris pros­e­cu­tor Fran­cois Molins said. “It will also try to find out whether Mo­hamed Laouaiej Bouh­lel had ties to Is­lamist ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions.”

“Al­though yes­ter­day’s at­tack has not been claimed, this sort of thing fits in per­fectly with calls for mur­der from such ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions,” he added.

Bouh­lel’s ex- wife was in po­lice cus­tody, Molins said. Po­lice found one pis­tol and var­i­ous fake weapons in his truck.

Tu­nisian se­cu­rity sources said the sus­pect had last vis­ited his home­town of Msaken four years ago. He had three chil­dren and was not known to hold Is­lamist views.

Msaken is about 10 km out­side the coastal city of Sousse, where a gun­man killed 38 peo­ple, mostly Bri­tish hol­i­day­mak­ers, on a beach a year ago. Many peo­ple from the area have moved to France, in­clud­ing Nice which is home to 130 000 Tu­nisians.

Neigh­bours in the res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hood in north­ern Nice where Bouh­lel lived de­scribed him as a hand­some but un­set­tling man, with a tense per­son­al­ity.

Dawn broke on Fri­day to pave­ments smeared with dried blood.

Smashed chil­dren’s strollers, an un­eaten baguette and other de­bris were strewn about the prom­e­nade. Small ar­eas were screened off and what ap­peared to be bod­ies cov­ered in blan­kets were vis­i­ble through the gaps.

The truck was still where it had come to rest, its wind­screen rid­dled with bul­lets.

“I saw this enor­mous white truck go past at top speed,” said Suzy Wargniez, a lo­cal woman aged 65 who had watched from a cafe on the prom­e­nade. “France is filled with sad­ness by this new tragedy,” Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande said in a dawn ad­dress.

A state of emer­gency im­posed af­ter the Novem­ber at­tacks was ex­tended by a fur­ther three months.

Mil­i­tary and po­lice re­servists would be called up to help en­force it.

With pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions less than a year away, French op­po­si­tion politi­cians seized on what they de­scribed as se­cu­rity fail­ings that made it pos­si­ble for the truck to ca­reer 2km through large crowds be­fore it was fi­nally halted.

“We will fur­ther strengthen our ac­tions in Syria and Iraq,” Hol­lande said, call­ing the tragedy – on the day France marks the 1789 rev­o­lu­tion­ary storm­ing of the Bastille prison in Paris – an at­tack on lib­erty by fa­nat­ics who de­spised hu­man rights,” he said. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

A man sits near a French flag along the beach­front the day af­ter a truck ran into a crowd at high speed killing scores cel­e­brat­ing the Bastille Day na­tional hol­i­day on the Prom­e­nade des Anglais in Nice.

A dis­traught mother searches for her miss­ing son near the scene of the at­tack.

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