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France reels from 'monstrosity' of Bastille Day attack

President Hollande condemns 'undeniable terrorist nature' of driver's truck rampage through Nice crowd, which killed 84 and injured dozens
The white lorry used in the attack on Bastille Day crowds in Nice (AFP)

A gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing at least 84 people in what President Francois Hollande on Friday called a "terrorist" attack.

Police shot the driver dead after he drove the truck 2km through a crowd that had been enjoying a fireworks display on France's July 14 national holiday. More than 100 people were injured, and 50 children were reported to have been among them.

Authorities said they found papers belonging to a 31-year-old French-Tunisian citizen in the 19-tonne truck, and that the driver fired a gun several times before police shot him dead.

The man was identified as Mohamed Bouhlel, a Nice resident hailing from the Tunisian town of Msaken. He was known to French police but was not on any anti-terrorism lists.

LIVE BLOG: The latest on the Bastille Day attack in Nice

Hollande said that the attack was of an "undeniable terrorist nature" and confirmed that several children were among the dead.

"France was struck on its national day ... the symbol of freedom," said Hollande.

"France is horrified by what has happened, this monstrosity which is using a truck to deliberately kill dozens of people who simply came to celebrate 14 July."

In a video viewed over 4,500 times on Facebook, a trembling Tarubi Wahid Mosta recounted the horror on the promenade, where he took photos of an abandoned doll and pushchair and came home with a victim's Yorkshire terrier.

"I almost stepped on a corpse, it was horrible. It looked like a battlefield," he said.

In a series of posts, he described the sense of helplessness faced with the carnage.

"All these bodies and their families ... they spent hours on the ground holding the cold hands of bodies dismembered by the truck. You can't even speak to them or comfort them."

The palm-lined Promenade des Anglais was left strewn with bodies as hundreds fled in terror.

The truck was still in the position where it had ground to a halt, its front badly damaged and riddled with bullet holes and its tyres burst.

A police source said the vehicle had been rented in the region "a few days ago".

World leaders rushed to condemn the carnage, with US President Barack Obama blasting "what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack".

The attack was the third major strike against France in less than 18 months and prosecutors said anti-terrorist investigators were handling the probe.

It comes eight months after Islamic State group attacks on bars, restaurants, a concert hall and the national stadium in Paris left 130 people dead.

Hollande announced he would extend France's state of emergency for three months in the wake of this latest attack and "step up" the government's action against IS targets in Syria and Iraq.

"We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil," he said.

He also called up army reservists to bolster security services.

France has been under a state of emergency ever since the 13 November Paris attacks, which came after 17 were killed in another attack in January at various sites including the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket. 

IS has repeatedly singled out France as a prime target for its military action against the group in Iraq and Syria, and hundreds have left France to go and fight in its ranks.

A witness named Nader told BFM television he had seen the whole attack from start to finish, and had initially thought the driver had "lost control".

"He stopped just in front of me after he (crushed) a lot of people. I saw a guy in the street, we were trying to speak to the driver to get him to stop.

"He looked nervous. There was a girl under the car, he smashed her. The guy next to me pulled her out," he said in broken English.

Nader said he saw the driver pull out a gun and start shooting at police. "They killed him and his head was out the window."

A source close to the investigation said an "inactive" grenade was found inside the truck, as well as "several fake rifles".

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that France would "not be destablised" by the attacks.

“We are facing a war that terrorism has started against us. The objective of the terrorists is to instil fear and panic. France will not allow itself to be destabilised.”

“Times have changed and we should learn to live with terrorism. We have to show solidarity and collective calm. France has been hit in its soul on the 14 July, our national day.

"They wanted to attack the unity of the French nation. The only dignified response is that France will remain loyal to the spirit of the 14 July and its values.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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