At least 80 people were killed Thursday night when a truck careened through crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day in the southern French city of Nice. French President François Hollande has said the attack, which also left 18 people in critical condition and dozens more injured, was likely an act of terrorism.
According to eyewitness accounts, bodies were sent flying into the air as the heavy-duty white transport vehicle hit them on the Promenade des Anglais at about 10:30 p.m. local time, where people had gathered to watch fireworks by the Nice seafront. Videos taken by bystanders show the truck zigzagging as the driver apparently sought to hit as many people as possible as he drove along more than a mile of crowded road. Images from the scene show bodies sprawled along stretches of road.
The driver reportedly also opened fire on the crowd, and was killed in a shootout with police. Authorities have also said the truck was loaded with explosives and “heavy weapons.” Photographs show the windshield of the truck riddled with bullet holes after it was brought to a halt.
Details have begun to emerge in local media about the possible identity of the driver. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that identity papers belonging to someone of French-Tunisian nationality were found in the truck, citing a police source. Other unconfirmed local media reports cited by the Guardian said the papers belonged to a 31-year-old Nice resident. It is not yet known whether the attacker had any accomplices.
Officials were quick to say they suspected a terrorist attack had taken place. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into “murder, attempted murder in an organized group linked to a terrorist enterprise,” to be led by the country’s intelligence agency and judicial police, the Associated Press reports.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but social media channels supporting the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group celebrated the attack. Observers monitoring terrorist groups said that both ISIS and al-Qaeda have asked their followers to use vehicles as weapons.
The January 2015 attack on the Paris offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo was linked to al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, and the multiple attacks in the same city in November were claimed by ISIS.
President Hollande addressed the nation in the early hours of Friday morning local time, condemning the attack, whose victims he said included children. He said the “terrorist nature” of the attack was “undeniable,” AFP reports. A state of emergency in France — which has been in place since November’s attacks on Paris, but was set to be lifted later this month, before this latest attack — has been extended for another 3 months.
“France has been struck on the day of her national holiday … the symbol of liberty,” Hollande said, according to the Guardian. “France as a whole is under the threat of Islamic terrorism. We have to demonstrate absolute vigilance and show determination that is unfailing.”
Leaders around the world responded to the attack, and Twitter users were using the hashtag #PrayForNice. President Barack Obama also issued a statement offering “any assistance that they may need to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice.”