Skip to main content

Scores killed in French city of Nice in Bastille Day lorry attack

Driver ploughed through crowds celebrating French national holiday, killing at least 84 people and injuring dozens in 2km rampage
Police officers and rescue workers stand near a van that ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice on 14 July 2016 (AFP)

A lorry ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French city of Nice on Thursday night, killing at least 84 people and injuring dozens more.

Eric Ciotti, a local Republican party assembly member, said 15 people were in a "critical state" after the truck drove through the crowd over a distance of 2km.

Identity papers belonging to a 31-year-old French-Tunisian were found inside the lorry, a police source said early Friday.

"The identification of the truck driver is still under way," said the source. The identity papers indicate the man is a resident of Nice.

The Nice prosecutor’s office said that more than 100 people were injured after the van drove through the crowd. A local official told French television it was a "major criminal attack".

The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, said the lorry was loaded with arms and grenades, according to the Associated Press news agency.

He added that the attack began when the lorry driver began shooting before driving 2km through the crowd.

Security forces and ambulances raced to the scene. According to French channel TF1, around 100,000 people were present for the fireworks at the time of the attack.

An Iranian journalist, Maryam Violet, visiting Nice for holiday, told the Guardian that she witnessed the attack and added that many of the dead are Muslims.

“There were so many Muslim people who were victims because I could see they had scarves over their head and some were speaking Arabic. One family lost a mother and in Arabic they were saying she’s a martyr,” she said.

“People were celebrating and it was so peaceful, it was a festivity vibe, it was right after the fireworks that the truck came and ran over people.”

The incident comes as France remains badly shaken by November 2015 attacks which killed 130 people at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris and nightspots across the city.

It also came just hours after France announced that a state of emergency declared after last November's attacks would come to an end later this month. It was extended for three more months following the Nice attack.

Reuters reported that anti-terrorist investigators have taken over the Nice attack probe, citing the prosecutor's office.

The French interior ministry confirmed that the truck driver had been "neutralised," CNN said. Officials were describing the incident as a "truck attack," as all indications were that it was intentional.

An AFP reporter described seeing a white van driving at high speed onto the famed Promenade des Anglais as people were leaving after the annual Bastille Day celebration display.

"We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around," he said, adding that the incident took place near the city's famed Hotel Negresco.

Terrified pedestrians screamed as they fled the area. "It was absolute chaos," he said.

A huge security cordon was established, closing off the central Place Massena, an AFP correspondent said.

"It was absolute chaos," said the AFP correspondent, who was among the crowd gathered to watch the fireworks for France's national day on the beachfront Promenade des Anglais.

"We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around," he said.

"I had to protect my face from flying debris."

Bastille Day is one of the most important holidays in France and it is the equivalent of independence day in the US. Bastille Day is the day where a mob of people overran a prison holding political prisoners on 14 July 1789.

President Francois Hollande addressed the nation hours after the attack, saying it was "obviously a terrorist attack". He said the state of emergency in France would be extended for another three months, and also vowed to increase France's military role in Iraq and Syria.

US President Barack released a statement expressing condemnation of the attack.

On Wednesday, France closed its embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara and its consulate in Istanbul until further notice after cancelling events to mark the 14 July Bastille Day holiday amid a "real and concrete" security threat.

The closures come with Turkey on edge after the triple suicide attack last month on Istanbul's main airport that was blamed on Islamic State (IS) group militants.

"The Embassy of France in Ankara, as well as the Consulate General in Istanbul will be closed from Wednesday July 13, 1:00 pm (1000 GMT), until further notice," the embassy said in a statement, after scrapping receptions at the missions on security grounds.

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

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.