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World & Nation

At least 84 dead as truck slams into crowd of revelers in Nice, France, attack

A truck loaded with weapons barreled through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers gathered Thursday to watch a fireworks display in the southern French resort city of Nice, fatally crushing people for more than a mile in what officials described as the latest in a string of deadly terrorist attacks to hit Europe.

At least 84 people were killed, including children, and scores of  others were wounded, 18 of them critically, the French Interior Ministry said. 

Grisly video showed a white truck accelerating down a coastal promenade teeming with people before the driver was shot and killed by police. Local authorities said the vehicle was full of arms and grenades.

“Horror, horror has once again struck France,” President Francois Hollande said in a televised address to the nation Friday morning, calling the assault a “monstrosity” whose “terrorist character” was undeniable.

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 “France has been struck on the day of her national holiday — the 14th of July  — the symbol of liberty,” he said, “because human rights are denied by fanatics and France is clearly their target.”

Hollande said he would seek to extend by three months a state of emergency in place since the last deadly attack in France in November. Just hours before, he had announced that the measure would be lifted.

He also ordered the activation of reserve forces to help secure the country and vowed to intensify attacks on Islamist extremists in Syria and Iraq.

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There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but French media reported that the identity papers of a French national of Tunisian descent were found in the truck.

Supporters of the extremist group Islamic State celebrated the attack on social media.  The group has been blamed for deadly attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Orlando and beyond, even as its fighters lose ground in Syria and Iraq.

The attack occurred at around 10.30 p.m., as thousands of people were packed along the Promenade des Anglais for the fireworks show.

The historic esplanade is the focal point for the annual pyrotechnics display, which is launched from a barge in the nearby Bay of Angels. Revelers, families with buggies, parents carrying children on their shoulders, and elderly people in wheelchairs lined the streets

Witnesses said the truck drove through the throngs, at first moving slowly, then accelerating to 25 to 30 miles per hour.

“I saw bodies flying like bowling pins in its path, heard noises, howls that I will never forget,” wrote Damien Allemand, a journalist for the local Nice-Matin newspaper, who was among the revelers.  “Around me, there was panic. People ran, screamed, wept. And then I realized. And I ran with them.”

Another witness told the Associated Press that the driver emerged from the truck at one point and started shooting into the crowd.

“There was carnage on the road,” Wassim Bouhlel said. “Bodies everywhere.”

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Images from the scene showed a truck with at least half a dozen bullet holes in its windshield. 

Michael Bordieri and his partner, Andrew Feda, had just arrived in Nice on vacation from New York. They watched the fireworks, and as they walked back to their hotel, they saw hordes of people running towards them.

“It was like the running of the bulls,” Bordieri, 29, said in a telephone interview. “This woman was hysterical. That’s when we knew something was wrong.”

Bordieri checked Twitter and saw the reports of a “shooter in Nice.” Minutes later, they heard a loud noise.  They took refuge for a few minutes in a nearby hotel, then at a restaurant where about 25 other people were hunkering down.

Restaurant staff hauled in the outside tables and umbrellas, locked the door, pulled down the metal grates and turned off the lights.

Out on the street, French security personnel were out in force. They appeared to be doing a sweep, Bordieri said.

One woman screamed that terrorists were taking hostages. It proved to be a rumor.

“We were just trying to keep each other calm,” Bordieri said. “It was a surreal moment.”

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After about 20 minutes, police arrived and guided them out of the hotel. They were told to raise their arms above their heads and were patted down, before being allowed to leave.

Along the route where the truck had cut its path, twisted bodies and limbs lay on the ground; pools of blood stained the road; personal belongings, cups, and beer bottles were scattered where they had been dropped.

Barely 100 yards east of the scene of the attack, a sudden surge of people fleeing the promenade provoked a stampede into the city’s Old Town. Rumors of an attack spread through the area, and waiters began shutting down canopies and locking doors. Groups of people ran from street to street, unsure which direction to go in.

Many sought shelter at the nearest establishment behind locked doors, leaving hours later when it appeared no further attacks were under way.

Large groups of armed soldiers continued to scour the streets through the night.

The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for “murder, attempted murder in an organized group linked to a terrorist enterprise.”

The attack on the promenade was one of several horrific terrorist strikes to hit Europe in the last 18 months and the third on French soil.

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Last month, attackers armed with guns and bombs killed more than 40 people at the Istanbul airport, one of Europe’s largest. There was no claim of responsibility for that attack, but the Turkish government blamed Islamic State.

In March, Islamic State suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital.

The extremist group also claimed responsibility for a devastating attack in Paris in November. Assailants armed with guns and bombs killed 130 people at a packed concert hall, outside a sports stadium and at popular nightspots.

In January that year, a series of attacks in greater Paris struck a French satirical magazine, a kosher market and police officers, leaving 17 people dead over a three-day period .

President Obama said the United States had offered any assistance that might be needed to investigate what appeared to be another “horrific terrorist attack.”

“We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack,” Obama said in a statement.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, announced he was postponing the naming of his vice presidential running mate, originally set for Friday, “in light of the horrible attack in Nice.”

Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., vowed in an interview with Fox News to make it “very, very hard for people to come into our country from terrorist areas.”

“I would do extreme vetting,” he said.

Former Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich went one step further, saying that Muslims in America should be questioned about whether they favor observance of Islamic law.

“Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported,” Gingrich said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

“Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia, glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door,” he said.

In a CNN phone interview, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said the U.S. was “at war with these terrorist groups and what they represent.”

“It’s a different kind of war and we have to be smart about how we wage it and win it,” she said.

She called for focusing on intelligence, partnering with other nations and cracking down on the Islamic State’s ability to recruit members online.

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Times staff writers Michael Finnegan and Seema Mehta contributed to this story.

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

ann.simmons@latimes.com

 


UPDATES:

1:45 a.m.: The story was updated with reporting on the scene from Nice.

12:04 a.m.: This story was updated with comments from Republican Newt Gingrich.

10:56 p.m: This story was updated with at least 84 people killed.

10.23 p.m.: This story was updated with additional details from the scene

8:38 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from U.S. presidential candidates.

7:53 p.m.: The story was updated with staff reporting.

This story was originally published at 4 p.m.


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