ON Thursday, July 14, a lorry truck slammed into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day, killing 84 people and injuring 202 others as of press time.
“The horror, the horror has, once again, hit France,” French President Francois Hollande said on the morning of Friday, July 15 before leaving for Nice. “France has been struck on the day of her national holiday. Human rights are denied by fanatics, and France is clearly their target.”
The attack began around 10:30 p.m. when a lorry truck made a sharp turn toward a crowd of spectators watching Bastille Day fireworks from the Promenade des Anglais, a popular boulevard overlooking the seaside.
Agence France-Presse reporter, Robert Holloway, who was also there to revel with others, described the accident as “absolute chaos.”
“We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around. I had to protect my face from flying debris,” he said, describing the white truck that plowed many people along the promenade.
Witness accounts said people were frightened, finding restaurants and other closed-door establishments to get away from flying debris. Corpses were scattered.
The truck continued down the promenade for 1.2 miles, pummeling down people left and right. The driver opened fire on three officers before being shot and killed by police near a hotel, according to CNN.
French prosecutor Francois Molins has identified the driver as 31-year-old Tunisian, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a delivery truck driver.
Authorities said that the truck was loaded with weapons and hand grenades. The police have searched two locations in Nice on Friday, July 15 including an apartment where Bouhlel lived. They have also detained Bouhlel’s wife.
Among the dead were 10 children and teenagers, according to Molins. Two Americans were killed in the attack: Sean Copeland, 51, of Austin, Texas and his 11-year-old son, Brodie Copeland, according to The Austin American-Statesman.
Hollande and other French government leaders met with survivors at the Pasteur Hospital in Nice. He said that many of the survivors were wounded physically and psychologically.
“Many told me that they had no recollection of what might have caused their wounds. However, they remember the bodies that were torn to shreds right in front of their eyes,” Hollande said in a press conference after the hospital visit.
Hollande has called the incident a “terrorist” attack, making it France’s third major terrorist attack in 19 months. The French president also called to extend the country’s national state of emergency issued after the Paris attacks in November for three months.
“We are facing a long battle,” he said in the press conference.
Additionally, he called on his country’s army reservists to amplify security to its limit.
Following to the attack, he vowed that his country “will always be stronger… than the fanatics that want to strike it.”
No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility, although online sources associated with the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda have cheered the attack, according to the New York Times.
Bouhlel had a substantial record of petty crime, but it’s unclear whether he was linked to any jihadist groups. Molins said that he never appeared in any governmental terrorism-related database.
“He is totally unknown to the intelligence services, both locally and nationally,” Molins said.
France has announced three days of national mourning starting on Saturday, July 16. Nice officials have cancelled upcoming festivities.
US President Barack Obama condemned “what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack.” He delivered a speech on Friday where he offered assistance to France in the aftermath of the attack, which he called a “threat to us all.”
“We cannot give into fear or turn on each other or sacrifice our way of life,” Obama said in his speech at the White House. “We cannot let ourselves be divided by religion because that is exactly what the terrorists want; we should never do their work for them.”
Pope Francis has expressed sympathy for the victims and outrage at the “blind violence” inflicted on the citizens.
The Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) have also shared grief of relatives and families
“Whatever the reason, this barbarism is unacceptable, intolerable,” the CEF said in a statement released on Friday. “Our country was hurt while living a moment of national unity. More than ever, national solidarity must be stronger than terrorism.” (With reports from Joseph B. Almer Pedrajas / AJPress)