The truck driver who careened through a 1.3-mile long crowd of revelers after Thursday night’s Bastille day fireworks in Nice, on France’s Riviera, appears to have deliberately targeted families, with around ten children reported among the dead after the attack that killed at least 84 people and wounded hundreds more.
“The fireworks had just finished…what I saw was horrible. The bodies of women crushed, covered in blood,” said one traumatized eye-witness in remarks reported by France TVinfo.
“He had no pity, he went for women, and babies,” said another man in an interview with French network BFMTV.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking in Nice said “a lot” of children and foreigners had died in the attacks. 50 people remained in critical condition “between life and death.”
“Among the victims are French citizens as well as foreigners, who came from all continents. But there are also a lot of young children who came to watch the fireworks with their families, to have a moment of joy and to share the happiness…and they were also hit, struck until they died, to simply satisfy the cruelty of an individual or perhaps a group.”
The French head of state said he and his colleagues had visited scores of injured “who have horrendous images in their heads.
“They are suffering more because of the psychological trauma. Even people who have no signs of physical injury will carry throughout their lives the trauma of the horrific images they saw.”
Regional council chief and former Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi said around ten children had died. A spokesperson for Nice pediatric hospital Lanval told reporters around 50 children had been admitted to hospital after the attack, and two had died Friday morning, while others were in an extremely critical condition.
Communications director for the hospital Stephanie Simpson told the Associated Press the young patients all aged under 18, were suffering head injuries and fractures and that an undisclosed number were “life and death”.
Foreigners and tourists were counted among the dead and wounded with Le Monde reporting that two Americans, one Russian, a Ukrainian and an Armenian citizen killed in the truck attack. The U.S. State Department confirmed two Americans were victims of the attack.
The body of the truck driver, who was shot by police, was formally identified as a 31 year-old Tunisian, a delivery driver from the Nice area. He had moved to France in about 2005, and was known to law enforcement officials for criminal activity — but had no official security risk designation as a radicalized individual. The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, identified the attacker as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a father of three children who had been ordered out of his family home in 2012 for domestic violence.
Numerous bystanders affirmed the killer, whom many initially thought had inadvertently lost control of his vehicle, did ‘zigzags’ with the truck to cause the maximum carnage, in an attack that prompted Facebook to activate its safety check.
Correspondent for RTL network Michael Lefebvre in Nice said there were “no words to describe everything that happened tonight.” There were “women, children, strollers” on the fabled Promenade des Anglais, where the truck driver turned France’s national holiday celebrations into a bloodbath at around 10.30pm.
According to CBC, a Canadian eyewitness affirmed the crowd was teeming with families and young children.”This was a family event, there were babies, there were children, and just watching these people dragging their children down the street was unbelievable, and we’re running with them,” said Ramiro Mora, a consultant from Toronto vacationing in Nice. “It was just absolute chaos.”
Le Monde journalist Lucie Soullier spoke with children after the attacks, including 5-year-old Skander, who did a drawing for psychologists at the victims’ help center in Nice, to explain what he had seen. “There are dead people and the sea,” he explained. Behind the windows of a car, he saw “the truck.” A body was flung toward them, his mother said.
— Lucie Soullier (@LucieSoullier) July 15, 2016
The death toll continued to rise on Friday after France’s worst terrorist attack since the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall and on Paris café terraces last November, that killed 130. President Hollande, in an extraordinary address delivered at 4am Paris time, said that the “terrorist nature” of the attack “cannot be denied” and that France “had been struck on its national holiday, the 14th of July, symbol of liberty, because the human rights are denied by the fanatics and France is inevitably their target.”
“All of France is under the threat of Islamist terrorism,” Hollande said, vowing to renew for a further three months the State of Emergency imposed after the November attacks. The head of state also pledged to maintain military operation Sentinelle, allowing the mobilization of 10,000 French soldiers to patrol the country, as well as calling up army reservists to aid in security including at the borders. Hollande also vowed France would intensify strikes in Syria and Iraq.
Hear some of French President Francois Hollande’s remarks translated into English:
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) July 15, 2016
In a statement following the attack in Nice, presumptive Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said: “Once again, it appears that terrorists have struck at one of our closest allies in Europe, attacking families celebrating the history and culture of their country on Bastille Day.
“Every American stands in strong solidarity with the people of France …”
"Every American stands in strong solidarity with the people of France" —Hillary on the attack in Nice pic.twitter.com/BBGgHucSE0
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 15, 2016
Britain’s new prime Minister, Theresa May, said in a statement: “I am shocked and saddened by the horrifying attack in Nice last night. Our hearts go out to the French people, and to all those who have lost loved ones or been injured.”
PM: I am shocked and saddened by the horrifying attack in Nice last night. Our hearts go out to the French people: https://t.co/XBCTNBFUGw
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) July 15, 2016