Updating with details as they become available… France has extended its state of emergency for three months after what French President François Hollande said “was obviously a terrorist attack” Thursday night in Nice. Eighty-four people are dead and more than 200 injured, 52 of those critically per French prosecutors, after a truck smashed through barriers and accelerated into a crowd gathered for a fireworks show to celebrate Bastille Day. Authorities say weapons including grenades and explosives were found in the truck, and the French interior ministry says the driver, identified by police sources as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel has been killed. Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian resident in France, also appeared to open fire before officers shot him dead, Reuters reported. Bouhlel was not known by local or national intelligence services and he was not on a terrorist watch list, according to French prosecutors.
The Riviera resort town is familiar to Hollywood professionals, who often arrive at its airport for the film and TV festivals in neighboring Cannes. A photo of the scene from Twitter is posted below, but be warned that the disturbing image appears to show bodies lying in the street.
In a televised address to the country at about 4 AM local time Friday, Hollande said France will extend its state of emergency — which was to have ended July 26 — for three months. He had said earlier Thursday that it would not be extended. “Our determination is unshakable,” he said through a translator. “Nothing will make us renounce our fight against terrorism. In fact, we will strengthen our action in Syria and in Iraq to hit those who are attacking us on our own territory.” Hollande also said he plans to hold a meeting with French defense officials Friday and will call up reserve forces to assist the military and gendarmes.
President Obama released a statement Thursday afternoon Eastern time:
On behalf of the American people, I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and other loved ones of those killed, and we wish a full recovery for the many wounded. I have directed my team to be in touch with French officials, and we have offered any assistance that they may need to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice. We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack.
On this Bastille Day, we are reminded of the extraordinary resilience and democratic values that have made France an inspiration to the entire world, and we know that the character of the French Republic will endure long after this devastating and tragic loss of life.
“Once again, ” said Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a statement released shortly after 8:30 PM Pacific, “it appears that terrorists have struck at one of our closest allies in Europe, attacking families celebrating the history and culture of their country on Bastille Day. Every American stands in strong solidarity with the people of France, and we say with one voice: we will not be intimidated. We will never allow terrorists to undermine the egalitarian and democratic values that underpin our very way of life. This cowardly attack only strengthens our commitment to our alliance and to defeating terrorism around the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured, and with all our friends in France.
There is no confirmation of terrorism, but France’s BFM television network says there was an exchange of gunfire between police and the occupants of the truck. The French ambassador in Washington tweeted that terrorism is suspected.
CNN quoted an American eyewitness as saying the truck accelerated as it “mowed people over” in the street. The network’s Jim Sciutto said the man told him, “There’s no question this was intentional.” Photos from the scene show a truck with damage to the front end and what appears to be multiple bullet holes in its windshield. The street had been cordoned off to become a pedestrian walkway as an estimated 40,000 gathered to watch a fireworks show marking the national holiday. The incident happened at about 9 PM local, just after the aerial display had ended.
The country is still on edge from the November terrorist attacks in Paris and just got past an incident-free hosting of the European Championships soccer tournament.