Promenade of blood and fear
French reel in wake of attack
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
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.