Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

‘We are in a war’: Terrorist truck attack kills 84 in Nice, France

French police forces and forensic officers stand next to a truck July 15, 2016 that ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday on the Promenade des Anglais killing at least 60 people in Nice, France, July 14.

Eric Gaillard/REUTERS

What we know so far:

  • Eighty-four people dead, 202 injured after truck mows down crowd
  • French President Francois Hollande calls it terrorism
  • Driver killed; identified as Tunisian-born Nice resident Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31
  • Ex-wife in police custody
  • No claim of responsibility; no clarity on attacker's motive

More than 200 people were injured and 84 were dead after a gunman at the wheel of a heavy truck drove at high speed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice, authorities said on Friday.

The driver, who was identified by officials as a 31-year-old Tunisian-born resident of Nice named Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, also opened fire before officers shot him dead. The man was not on the watch list of French intelligence services, but was known to the police in connection with crimes such as theft and violence, a police source said. He had been convicted only once: for road rage.

Story continues below advertisement

He came from the Tunisian town of Msaken which he last visited four years ago and was married with three children. He was not known by Tunisian authorities to hold radical or Islamist views.

Several neighbours at an address listed for the attacker said police officers raided the 12th-floor apartment on Friday, but that he had not lived there for three years. The apartment was occupied by the man's estranged wife, who is now in police custody.

French President Francois Hollande called Thursday's attack terrorism and extended a state of emergency that had been due to expire later this month.

"About 50 people are in an absolute urgency between life and death," Hollande said after visiting victims at a hospital in the French Riviera city. He said the attack aimed "to satisfy the cruelty of an individual, and maybe a group."

"The terrorist character (of the attack) cannot be denied," Hollande said. "All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorists."

Read more: France grapples with a sad, horrible routine after attack in Nice

Hollande said he was deploying thousands of military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by an eight-month state of emergency begun after the Islamic State militant group killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13. No group has claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack.

Story continues below advertisement

"We are in a war with terrorists who want to strike us at any price and in a very violent way," France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

Authorities were investigating whether Bouhlel had accomplices and whether he had ties to Islamist terrorist organizations, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference. "Although yesterday's attack has not been claimed, this sort of thing fits in perfectly with calls for murder from such terrorist organizations."

Molins said that the man had shot several times at police before his vehicle was stopped and he was killed. Police found one pistol and various fake weapons in the truck's cabin. They later seized a telephone and computer at his home.

The attacker drove the heavy, long-distance truck at speed for two kilometres along the famed Promenade des Anglais seafront, hitting the mass of spectators late in the evening, regional official Sebastien Humbert told France Info radio.

"It's a scene of horror," local member of parliament Eric Ciotti told France Info, saying the truck had sped along the pavement fronting the Mediterranean, before being stopped by police after "mowing down several hundred people."

"A person jumped onto the truck to try to stop it," Ciotti told Europe 1 radio. "It's at that moment that the police were able to neutralize this terrorist. I won't forget the look of this policewoman who intercepted the killer."

Story continues below advertisement

PHOTO GALLERY: Truck plows into crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, killing dozens

Christian Estrosi, the regional president in Nice, said some of the city's 1,200 security cameras had pinpointed the moment the attacker boarded the truck, far from the seaside "in the hills of Nice" and could follow his path to the promenade. Estrosi called for the investigation to focus on any accomplices.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the government is declaring three days of national mourning.

Nice Airport was temporarily evacuated on Friday. The terminal building had been sealed off and military personnel were visible inside after an unattended bag was discovered at Terminal 1, an airport official said. The official said it was a precautionary measure. It was unclear whether this was related to the attack on the promenade. The airport was later reopened.

So far, officials from global foreign ministries have confirmed that among the dead are a father and son from Texas, two Estonians, an Armenian, a Ukrainian, a female Russian student and a Swiss woman. There were no immediate reports of Canadians among the dead and injured.

A group of B.C. high school students were on a field trip to Nice. The school board has confirmed on its website that all students and chaperones are safe.

The students – from Dover Bay, Woodland, Wellington, and Nanaimo District secondary schools – were in homestays with local families, there to learn more about the country's language and culture.

"When it happened, many students had seen it and were not too far away from the events," said Dale Burgos, the school district's director of communications. He said the district is meeting with the schools' administration to figure out what the next steps will be for the students. "I know that a lot of parents out there are worried – they've been able to speak with their kids through social media and the phones."

Canadian Héloïse Landry, who is on vacation in Nice with her daughter, told The Globe: "We were out for the fireworks for Bastille Day, exactly where the attack happened. What we saw before was a very quiet atmosphere. I even asked my friend from Nice, 'Is it usually this calm for Bastille Day?' It was a bit like the quiet before the storm. When the fireworks were over, we went back home; I live at my friend's apartment, which is right next to the promenade (where the attack happened)...

"The moment we got inside the home, we heard the sound of bodies hitting metal, and we haven't left the apartment since because authorities have asked us to stay inside."

Landry added: "It's a bit of a paradox. The whole world is talking about this, but we're completely isolated inside the home. We have no television."

Global Affairs Canada said Friday that no Canadians were among the dead. Canadian citizens in Nice requiring emergency consular assistance should contact the Embassy of Canada in Paris at 33 (0)1 44 43 29 02 or call the department's 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre collect at 1 613 996 8885. An email can also be sent to sos@international.gc.ca

Friends and relatives in Canada of Canadian citizens known to be in Nice should contact Global Affairs Canada by calling 1 613 996 8885 or 1 800 387 3124 or by sending an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

Witness accounts

One woman told France Info she and others had fled in terror: "The lorry came zig-zagging along the street. We ran into a hotel and hid in the toilets with lots of people."

Another woman told the station she was sheltering in a restaurant on the promenade with some 200 other people, where things had calmed down about two hours after the incident.

Writing online, Nice-Matin journalist Damien Allemand who was at the waterside said the fireworks display had finished and the crowd had got up to leave when they heard a noise and cries.

"A fraction of a second later, an enormous white truck came along at a crazy speed, turning the wheel to mow down the maximum number of people," he said.

"I saw bodies flying like bowling pins along its route. Heard noises, cries that I will never forget."

American flight attendant Lee Jewell told The Globe: "I saw police officers trying to do CPR on one of the bodies. I saw one police officer step aside to vomit. I saw an empty baby stroller. It was a horrible scene."

Security increased

London Mayor Sadiq Khan says London will review its security procedures because of the attack in Nice. The terror threat in Britain is judged to be "severe," meaning that an attack is highly likely.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel says next week's national holiday celebrations will go ahead, but with additional security measures. OCAM, an independent body that assesses the risk of an extremist attack in Belgium, is maintaining the threat level at 3 on a 4-point scale, Michel said.

Pop star Rihanna canceled a concert scheduled to be held in Nice on Friday. Riders on the Tour de France, the top event on the international cycling calendar, observed a minute's silence before Thursday's stage, held three hours' drive northwest of Nice. Security has been tightened for the three-week race, which is watched by huge crowds lining the route around the country.

World leaders react

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also responded to the attacks, saying, "I was heartbroken to learn of the many dozens of innocent victims who were killed or injured as a result of today's terrorist attack that targeted Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France."

"On behalf of all Canadians, I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed. We also wish a speedy recovery to the many more that were injured."

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned "what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack." He was briefed on Thursday, the White House said.

Noting that the attack occurred on Bastille Day, Obama praised "the extraordinary resilience and democratic values that have made France an inspiration to the entire world."

In Canada

In some corners of Montreal, home to more than 100,000 French citizens, Bastille Day is celebrated with nearly the same fervour as in the streets of Paris. Revellers typically gather in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and drink the night away at local bars such as l'Barouf, a particularly popular spot among French expats.

At a formal reception in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where the French consul-general, Catherine Feuillet, and Mayor Denis Coderre entertain members of the city's French community, Mr. Coderre ordered flags at City Hall to be flown at half-mast and quickly released a statement in which he expressed shock over the scope of the deadly attack.

"In this difficult moment, Montrealers stand in solidarity with the French people and the people of Nice," he said. "Liberté, egalité, fraternité. These values have never been as relevant."

Eight months ago, Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13, the bloodiest in a number of attacks in France and Belgium in the past two years. On Sunday, France had breathed a sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer tournament ended without a feared attack.

Vehicle attacks have been used by isolated members of militant groups in recent years, notably in Israel, as well as in Europe, though never to such devastating effect.

With files from Laurent Bastien, Michelle Zilio, Megan Dolski, Riley Sparks and The Associated Press

Report an error Licensing Options
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.