By Sekar Krisnauli
Rabat – A large white truck struck down an enormous crowd of spectators in the southern French city of Nice Thursday night during the annual Bastille Day firework celebrations, considered as France’s most important holiday, and caused death and mayhem in what was later called a terrorist assault by the French president.
At least 84 people were reported dead, including many children, France’s Interior Ministry said, and 18 more people were under critical condition in the hospital. It was reported that the victims died as the driver of the truck mowed them down the sidewalk for more than a mile. The truck was described by officials and police officers as being full of weapons and grenades. The driver was later shot to death by police officers.
This has become the latest terrorist attack on French soil, eight months after the killing of 130 people took place in the Bataclan music hall and theatre and approximately 18 months following the Charlie Ebdo shooting that left 12 employees of the satirical magazine dead.
“The horror, the horror, has once again, hit France,” President François Hollande said in a nationally televised address early Friday. He said the “terrorist character” of the attack was unmistakable and denounced the attack a “monstrosity.”
France would observe three days of national morning starting Saturday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Friday morning.
“We will not give in to the terrorist threat. The times have changed, and France should learn to live with terrorism,” Valls said during his statement outside Élysée Palace in Paris.
Officials have warned residents to stay indoors and canceled all further scheduled festivities in Nice following the incident.
Witnesses of the attack described the scene as violent and chaotic, news sources reported, and expressed their frustration at the ongoing terror that has struck France for more than a year.
“I heard lots of screams and everybody was running in different directions. …It felt surreal and I didn’t move,” Pouya, from Toronto, told the BBC. “Then I saw the truck coming straight at me…. After that there was no conscious thought, my body took over, time slowed down.”
Damien Allemand, a Nice Matin journalist, described online what he saw after the fireworks, the Associated Press reported.
“A fraction of a second later, an enormous white truck came along…turning the wheel to mow down the maximum number of people,” he told the AP. “I saw bodies flying like bowling pins along its route. Heard noises, cries that I will never forget. This evening, it was horror.”
Two French police officials said they have found identity papers alongside the driver which belonged to a 31-year-old Frenchman of Tunisian descent, the AP reported.
Around 10:30 p.m. Thursday, the truck sped down the Promenade des Anglais after turning onto the promenade from a side street near a children’s hospital, The New York Times reported. Some of the first killed were identified as a middle-age Muslim woman and an unidentified man on Magnan Beach. The Times’ interactive map showed that police were shooting at the truck in front of Westminster Hotel and Spa, still on the promenade. The map further showed that the truck then came to a stop in front of the Casino du Palais and the driver was shot to death by police.
The world mourns
Head of States, public figures, and people around the world have taken to social media to express grief, condolences, and to some extent, offer assistance.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Allam, the nation’s highest religious authority, condemned the attack and described it as a “despicable attack,” according to the Times.
The newly appointed British PM Theresa May said her nation would provide any required assistance, the Times reported.
“We must redouble our efforts to defeat these brutal murderers who want to destroy our way of life,” she said.
Malcolm Turnbull, Justin Trudeau, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Narendra Modi, the PM of Australia, Canada, Israel, and India, respectively, among other head of states, also took to Twitter to express their condolences.
Malcolm Tunbull tweet:
We mourn for the victims of another murderous act of terror in France overnight, on Bastille Day https://t.co/BZ18IJJaKb
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) July 15, 2016
Justin Trudeau tweet:
Canadians are shocked by tonight’s attack in Nice. Our sympathy is with the victims, and our solidarity with the French people.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) July 14, 2016
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
Israel condemns in the strongest terms last night’s horrific attack in Nice.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) July 15, 2016
Appalled by the horrific attack in Nice. I strongly condemn such mindless acts of violence. My thoughts are with the families of deceased.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 15, 2016
The hashtag #PorteOuverteNice which means Open Door, has been used to offer homes to those in need of shelter. #RechercheNice, or “search Nice” has been used in hopes of finding friends and loved ones. #JeSuisNice which means “I am Nice,” adopted from the initial #JeSuisCharlie after the Charlie Hebdo attack, and #PrayForNice has also been circulating around social media to show support.