Terrorist Attack in Nice, France, Leaves 84 Dead and 202 Injured


Police officers on Friday at the site where a truck barreled for more than a mile through a crowd watching a fireworks display in Nice, France.


NICE, France — The toll of a terrorist attack on a Bastille Day fireworks celebration in the southern French city of Nice rose on Friday to 84 dead and 202 injured, as the government identified the attacker 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 Friday morning after a cabinet meeting led by President François Hollande. “The times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism.”
 The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, identified the attacker as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, a delivery-truck driver who was born on Jan. 3, 1985, and raised in Msaken, a town in northeastern Tunisia. The police searched two locations in Nice on Friday, including a home with Mr. Bouhlel’s name outside it.
     
 No organized group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although online accounts associated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have cheered it.

Mr. Bouhlel had a history of petty crime, including burglary and theft, and received a six-month suspended sentence in March for assaulting a motorist during an altercation. “He is totally unknown to the intelligence services, both locally and nationally,” Mr. Molins said, and he had never appeared in any terrorism-related government database.

 The attack unfolded on Thursday around 10:30 p.m., when a large truck turned left onto the Promenade des Anglais, a seaside boulevard filled with an enormous crowd of spectators.
 The truck initially killed two people and continued for 1.1 miles down the boulevard, brutally mowing down people left and right until police officers shot and killed Mr. Bouhlel outside a hotel and casino, as he wielded a firearm.The 84 dead included 10 children and teenagers, Mr. 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, Mr. Molins said.

Officials canceled festivities in Nice, a seaside city of 340,000, including a five-day jazz festival and a concert on Friday night by Rihanna.

 “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,” Mr. Hollande said, flanked by Mr. Valls and Health Minister Marisol Touraine, after meeting with victims and medical workers at the Pasteur Hospital in Nice.
                                       

Mr. Hollande said the victims he had met were physically and psychologically scarred. “Many told me that they had no recollection of what might have caused their wounds,” he said. “However, they remember the bodies that were torn to shreds right in front of their eyes.”

 Despite mounting criticism about France’s ability to prevent terrorism attacks, Mr. Hollande praised French security forces, saying they had “taken all necessary measures so that this fireworks show might be as protected as possible — as had been the case during the European Championship soccer tournament.”

“Why Nice?” Mr. 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 attack Thursday evening, Mr. Hollande had said that a state of emergency put in place after the Nov. 13 attacks in and around Paris would end soon. The government will now seek to extend the state of emergency for three months.

 As France announced three days of national mourning, starting on Saturday, world leaders — from Pope Francis and President Obama to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May — expressed sympathy and outrage.
 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, and it raised new questions throughout the world about the ability of extremists to sow terror.

The internet reverberated with calls for prayer for victims of attacks in Brussels; Istanbul; Orlando, Fla.; Baghdad; and other cities struck by mass terrorism attributed to Islamist extremists this year.

 “The horror, the horror has, once again, hit France,” Mr. Hollande told the nation early Friday morning before leaving for Nice. He said the “terrorist character” of the assault was undeniable, and he described the use of a large truck to deliberately kill people as “a monstrosity.”
 “France has been struck on the day of her national holiday,” he said. “Human rights are denied by fanatics, and France is clearly their target.”
 The attacks could add to the political problems facing Mr. Hollande, who is expected to seek a second five-year term next year even though he is deeply unpopular. On Friday, even as French officials largely confined themselves to expressions of grief and solidarity, criticisms of the government’s seeming inability to prevent attacks began to emerge.

“I don’t want to hear about national unity,” Mr. Fenech told the news channel iTélé on Friday. “Today, it is a duty to talk to the French people, to tell them that our country is not equipped against Islamist terrorism.”

 “I am saying it very clearly, whatever the political cost,” he said.Christian Estrosi, the president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, which includes Nice, expressed outrage, sympathy and frustration in an interview with BFM-TV on Friday morning, pointedly noting the attacks in France last year, as well as the ones in March in Brussels.
 “Questions are raised,” he said. “As I try to comfort the families, I also try to contain my anger, I can’t hide to you that I feel a deep anger. How is it possible in our country that after everyone said there was a state of emergency, a state of war, we forget it, after Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan. After the Bataclan, we forgot, and there was Brussels. After Brussels, we forgot, and there was Nice, so there are questions that need to be answered.”
 Mr. Estrosi said that the families needed time to mourn, and he added that it was “our duty” to support them. But he also asked how it was possible that the individual was apparently able to breach security, and he said that he expected an answer from Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister.

“I don’t want to hear the usual ‘we are going to have an investigative commission,’ ” he said.

 The Nice attack took place less than a week after the end of the European soccer tournament. France had hosted the tournament, and the entire country had been on high alert.
 With tens of thousands of people gathered at stadiums and in designated “fan zones” during the games, the police and private security forces took extraordinary measures to try to secure the sites.
 Some criticism also came from social media, where commentators said that a government app, set up to post alerts in case of emergencies, and unveiled before the tournament, had been too slow to send out a notification about the attack.

 

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Along with the adequacy of terrorism prevention, the use of a large commercial truck as the principal weapon of death raised new questions about how to prevent such attacks.

 Graphic television and video images showed the truck accelerating and tearing through the crowd, dozens of victims sprawled in its path, and the bullet-riddled windshield of the vehicle. Municipal officials and police officers initially described the truck as having been full of weapons and grenades, but those accounts had not been verified.
 “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.
 “No one explained to us what was happening, and I heard some gunshots not very far away,” she said. “I waited at the bar for more information because I thought it was a false alert. But then, people were still running.”
 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,” Ms. Kamel said. “Then it started to plow into the crowd, zigzagging and crushing people. I could not believe it.”
 “But then I saw him aiming at people and crushing them,” she said.

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.”

The Islamic State, the militant group that asserted responsibility for the attacks in Paris, did not make any immediate claims for the Nice assault. The Islamic State’s Amaq News channel on the Telegram instant-messaging service had no mention of the assault.

However, numerous social media accounts linked to the Islamic State and to Al Qaeda — which are competitors in the global jihadist struggle — praised the rampage. One pro-Qaeda channel quoted Mr. Valls expressing pain, followed by an emoji of a person laughing and of two hands clapping.

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