Bastille Day terror: Bloodbath on French Riviera fiesta

July 16, 2016 1:00 am

One moment, the famous Nice waterfront boulevard was packed with
people watching Bastille Day fireworks exploding over the Mediterranean.
But
in the next horrific seconds, a truck rammed into the crowd at high
speed, leaving a trail of bodies, shock and despair through a French
Riviera fiesta.
It would be difficult to pick a more meaningful
time to attack , as the assailant did, on the country’s national
day. The terrorist, whose vehicle contained guns and grenades, targeted a
city full of flags and fireworks celebrating independence day, a day
about revolution and the casting off of the yoke of a king.
Last
night the death toll stood at 84. Many children were among the dead. At
least 18 people were critically injured and dozens more were also hurt.
As
police and troops counted the bodies along the Promenade des Anglais,
people in France were coming to grips – again – with the fact that the
entire country could become part of the front line with the Islamic
State as its “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq starts to collapse.

“The horror, the horror has, once again, hit France,”
President Francois Hollande said in a nationally televised address, just
hours after the attack. He said the “terrorist character” of the
assault was undeniable, and he described the use of a large truck to
deliberately kill people as “a monstrosity”.
Interior Minister
Bernard Cazeneuve said: “We are at war with terrorists who want to
strike us at any cost and who are extremely violent.”
Hollande said: “Human rights are denied by fanatics, and France is clearly their target.”
He
announced that a state of national emergency – due to end on July 26 –
would be extended by three months and that additional soldiers would be
deployed for security.
French officials quickly concluded terrorism was
the likely motive, as the scope of the slaughter grew clear. The use of a
large commercial truck as the main weapon of death raised new questions
about how to prevent such attacks.
There was no immediate claim
of responsibility, and the identity of the driver was not immediately
clear, but the Nice-Matin newspaper reported that he was a 31-year-old
Frenchman of Tunisian origin. He was killed in a shootout with police.

Parents of victims embrace each other near the scene of a truck attack in Nice. Photo / AP
This week Patrick Calvar, the head of domestic intelligence
in France, had warned that “the greatest threat” was from people who
trained and fought in Syria and Iraq, like those who carried out
November’s attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. And now for the third
time in 18 months, a deadly terror attack has happened in the country.
Nice
has rarely felt like a place of fear. Many leading artists have made
their homes there. Henri Matisse, who helped define the city with
fanciful, brightly coloured paintings, arrived in 1917 and sat out World
War II there.
But nothing quite matches the grandeur of the
Promenade des Anglais, literally the walkway of the English. The name
comes from the substantial number of English aristocratic families that,
in the second half of the 18th century, would travel there to spend
winters.
It was so familiar that one of Agatha Christie’s
mysteries takes place on a luxury train used primarily by British
travellers destined for Nice and the French Riviera.

But
from now on, the name of the promenade will evoke different images: The
spacious lobby of the 103-year-old luxury hotel Negresco turned into a
makeshift hospital ward. A covered body in the street with a child’s
doll lying alongside.
Damien Allemand, a reporter for Nice-Matin, said he “saw bodies flying like bowling pins” as the vehicle raced forward.
“Heard sounds, howls that I will never forget,” he wrote.
He ran away with other crying, screaming people, then returned to the promenade where he encountered a sobbing man.
“The
dead are everywhere,” the man told Allemand. “He was right,” the
reporter wrote. “Just behind him, lifeless bodies every five metres,
limbs … blood.”

The world reacts

United States
President
Barack Obama condemned what he said “appears to be a horrific terrorist
attack” in Nice. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and
other loved-ones of those killed.” Secretary of State John Kerry called
it a “horrendous attack in Nice”. Both presidential candidates also
condemned the attacks, Republican Donald Trump declaring “this is war”
and Democrat Hillary Clinton vowing “we will not be intimidated”.
Russia
Russian
President Vladimir Putin says he has been “shocked by the violence and
exceptional cynicism” of the attack. Although the cause of the attack
has not been officially confirmed, Putin said in a message of
condolences to French President Francois Hollande that terrorism can be
defeated only if “all civilised mankind pulls efforts together” to fight
militants, their leaders as well as targeting their financial backers
“wherever they are hiding”.
European Union
European
Council President Donald Tusk yesterday expressed consternation that
France was attacked on its national day and said the world stands united
with the French people. “It is a tragic paradox that the victims of the
attack people celebrating liberty, quality and fraternity. We will
stand united with the families of victims, the French people and the
Government in the fight against violence and hatred,” he said.
China
Premier
Li Keqiang said “we strongly condemn terrorism of all forms. We express
our condolences to the victims and we will fight all kinds of
terrorism”.
Belgium
Foreign Minister Didier
Reynders expressed dismay that France was once again the target of an
apparent terrorist attack. “We condemn such an attack, maybe a terrorist
attack, but such an attack in France again.”
Turkey
Foreign
Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “We strongly condemn and damn the
terrible terror attack that occurred in the French city of Nice. We
deeply share the pain of the French people. Turkey is in full solidarity
with France in the fight against terrorism. We will continue our
struggle against these baseless [people] with determination. First and
foremost, terrorism is the rape of humanity and universal values.”
Australia
Foreign
Minister Julie Bishop said three Australians suffered minor injuries
while fleeing the scene. “It has shocked France, it has rocked it to its
core,” Bishop said. “This should have been a time of great national
pride and celebration.” Bishop condemned the violence, saying it was a
reminder that “no country is immune from terrorist attacks”. “We support
our friends and partners in France and we join with others around the
world in hoping that this will be the end of this type of horrific
incident that is targeted at unarmed civilians,” she said.
United Arab Emirates
The
seven sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates condemned the “heinous
terrorist crime” that struck Nice. In a statement on the state-run WAM
agency, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al
Nahyan pledged to stand with the people of France. Sheikh Abdullah also
stressed the attack “makes it imperative for everyone to work together
decisively and without hesitation to counter terrorism in all its
forms”. The UAE is part of the US-led coalition targeting the Isis and
hosts American and Western military personnel involved in the fight.

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