84 killed in Nice truck driver's rampage


By New York Times News Service
  • Published 16.07.16

Nice, July 15: The toll of an attack on a Bastille Day fireworks celebration in the southern French city of Nice rose today to 84 dead and 202 injured, as the government identified the assailant as a 31-year-old native of Tunisia, extended a national state of emergency and absorbed the shock of a third major terrorist attack in 19 months.

"We will not give in to the terrorist threat," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said this morning after a cabinet meeting led by President François Hollande. But Valls also offered a grim observation for his countrymen: "The times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism."

Starting around 10.45pm yesterday, the attacker mowed down scores of victims in Nice with a rented 19-tonne refrigerated truck before engaging in a gunfight with three police officers, who pursued him down a storied seaside promenade and killed him.

The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, identified the man as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who was born on January 3, 1985, and raised in Msaken, a town in northeastern Tunisia.

No organised group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although online accounts associated with the Islamic State and al Qaida have cheered it.

Bouhlel rented the truck on Monday from a company in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, a town about six miles (9.6km) east of Nice, near the city's airport, and then parked it in the Auriol neighbourhood of eastern Nice.

At 9.34pm yesterday, according to surveillance footage, Bouhlel arrived by bicycle in Auriol and entered the truck. He then drove it westwards, arriving at 10.30 in the Magnan neighbourhood, north of the Promenade des Anglais, a famous seaside boulevard.

His deadly rampage began around 15 minutes later, when he drove the truck south and then turned onto the promenade, which was packed with spectators watching the end of the Bastille Day fireworks.

Bouhlel initially mowed down two persons and then continued driving for 1.8km eastwards, running over people left and right. Outside the Negresco Hotel, Bouhlel fired at three police officers; they returned fire, and then pursued him for about a thousand feet. They shot and killed him outside a Hyatt hotel and casino.

Bouhlel was found dead in the passenger seat. In the truck's cabin, police found an automatic 7.65mm pistol, a cartridge clip, and several cartridges. They also found a fake automatic pistol; two fake assault rifles, a Kalashnikov and an M-16; a non-functioning grenade; and a mobile phone and documents.

Many children

The 84 dead included 10 children and teenagers, Molins said. Among the victims were two German students and their teacher; two Americans; two Tunisians, and one Russian.

Of the 202 people wounded, 52 had serious injuries and 25 were in intensive care, Molins said.

"There are many children, young children who had come to watch fireworks with their family, to have joy, to share happiness, delight, amazement, and who were struck, struck to death, merely to satisfy the cruelty of an individual - and maybe of a group," Hollande said, flanked by Valls and health minister Marisol Touraine, after meeting victims and medical workers in Nice.

"Many told me that they had no recollection of what might have caused their wounds," Hollande said. "However, they remember the bodies that were torn to shreds right in front of their eyes."

Officials cancelled festivities in Nice, a city of 340,000, including a five-day jazz festival and a concert by Rihanna.

According to Fox News, the cast of the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel was also in Nice at the time of the attack. Producer Dana Brunetti said the cast and crew are safe.

Despite mounting criticism over France's efforts to prevent terrorism attacks, Hollande praised French security forces. "Why Nice?" Hollande asked.

"Because it is a city that is known worldwide, one of the most beautiful cities on the planet," he said. "Why on the 14th of July? Because it is a celebration of freedom. It was, therefore, indeed to affect France that the individual committed this terrorist attack."

Hours before the carnage in Nice, Hollande had said that a state of emergency put in place after the November 13 attacks in and around Paris would end soon. The government will now seek to extend the state of emergency for three months.

France announced three days of national mourning, starting on Saturday. It was a sadly familiar ritual for France, where a total of 147 people were killed in terrorist attacks in and around Paris in January and November of last year.

The use of a large commercial truck as the principal weapon of death also raised new questions about how to prevent such attacks.

Scene of mayhem

Witnesses to the Nice attack described the scene of mayhem.

"We were enjoying the celebrations when we suddenly saw people running everywhere and tables being pushed down by the movement of panic," said Daphné Burandé, 15, who was at a bar near the beach to watch the fireworks.

Another witness, Raja el-Kamel, 43, said the attack seemed, at first, as if it might have been the act of a drunken driver.

"There was a white truck that was advancing slowly," Kamel said.

"Then it started to plough into the crowd, zigzagging and crushing people. I could not believe it."

She added: "I was looking on my right, and there were bodies on the ground. I was looking on my left, there were also many bodies on the ground. It was a massacre."

Joëlle Nouvel, 60, a retired diplomat who has been living in Nice for 15 years, said she saw the truck's driver wielding a gun in his left hand, and shooting through the truck's window at the police and at the crowd.

"The truck was ramming over everything and everyone and bodies were thrown in the air like bowling pins," she said in a phone interview, estimating that she heard about 50 shots fired.