What We Know So Far
- Eighty-four people are dead and scores injured, officials say.
- French President Francois Hollande calls it terrorism
- Driver of truck is dead
- Reports say gunfire exchanged after driver left truck
- Guns and grenades were found inside the truck, a parliamentarian told BFM TV
- What we don't know: Incident described as criminal attack but it's not clear if terrorism involved. Identity and motive of the driver uncertain.
An attacker killed more than 80 people and injured scores more when he drove a truck at high speed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice late on Thursday, authorities said.
French President Francois Holland called it terrorism and immediately extended his country's state of emergency, which had been due to expire later this month.
"France was struck on the day of its national fete, July 14, the symbol of liberty," a sombre Hollande said on national television early Friday, denouncing "this monstrosity" — a truck bearing down on citizens "with the intention of killing, smashing and massacring ... an absolute violence."
"The terrorist character (of the attack) cannot be denied," he said. "All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorists."
Hollande said he was calling up military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by an eight-month state of emergency begun after the Islamic State militant group killed 130 people in Paris. The state of emergency was extended by three months.
"France is filled with sadness by this new tragedy," Hollande said, noting several children were among the dead.
He called the carnage, which came as France celebrated the anniversary of the 1789 revolutionary storming of the Bastille, an attack on liberty by fanatics who despised human rights.
France would, nonetheless, continue military operations in Syria and Iraq, he vowed.
The main newspaper in the seaside city, Nice Matin, Newspaper Nice-Matin quoted unidentified sources as saying the driver was a 31-year-old local of Tunisian origin. Senior French government leaders refused to confirm that report.
France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said there are 18 more victims in critical condition.
The Paris prosecutor's office announced an investigation for "murder, attempted murder in an organized group linked to a terrorist enterprise."
"We are in a war with terrorists who want to strike us at any price and in a very violent way," Cazeneuve said.
Police shot and killed the driver, who drove the heavy, long-distance truck at speed for two kilometres along the famed Promenade des Anglais seafront, hitting the mass of spectators late in the evening, regional official Sebastien Humbert told France Info radio.
Guns and grenades were found inside the truck, a parliamentarian told BFM TV.
"It's a scene of horror," local member of parliament Eric Ciotti told France Info, saying the truck had sped along the pavement fronting the Mediterranean, before being stopped by police after "mowing down several hundred people."
There were no immediate reports of Canadians among the dead and injured. A group of B.C. high school students were on a field trip to Nice. The school board has confirmed on its website that all students and chaperones are safe.
The students – from Dover Bay, Woodland, Wellington, and Naniamo District secondary schools – were staying in homestays with local families, there to learn more about the country's language and culture.
"But they were there though when it happened, many students had seen it and were not too far away from the events," said Dale Burgos, the school district's director of communications.
Burgos says the district is meeting with the schools' administration to figure out what the next steps will be for the students.
"I know that a lot of parents out there are worried – they've been able to speak with their kids through social media and the phones – rightfully so parents want their kids home safe and we are trying to figure that out right now."
Canadian Héloïse Landry, who is on vacation in Nice with her daughter, told The Globe: "We were out for the fireworks for Bastille Day, exactly where the attack happened. What we saw before was a very quiet atmosphere. I even asked my friend from Nice 'Is it usually this calm for Bastille Day?' It was a bit like the quiet before the storm. When the fireworks were over, we went back home, I live at my friend's apartment, which is right next to the promenade (where the attack happened) . . .
"The moment we got inside the home we heard the sound of bodies hitting metal, and we haven't left the apartment since because authorities have asked us to stay inside."
Landry added: "It's a bit of a paradox. The whole world is talking about this, but we're completely isolated inside the home. We have no television."
Global Affairs Canada said late Thursday the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa and Canadian offices in Paris stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens and are endeavouring to determine if Canadian citizens have been affected.
Canadian citizens in Nice requiring emergency consular assistance should contact the Embassy of Canada in Paris at 33 (0)1 44 43 29 02 or call the department's 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre collect at 1 613 996 8885. An email can also be sent to email@example.com
Friends and relatives in Canada of Canadian citizens known to be in Nice should contact Global Affairs Canada's 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre by calling 1 613 996 8885 or 1 800 387 3124 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Eight months ago, Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13, the bloodiest in a number of attacks in France and Belgium in the past two years. On Sunday, France had breathed a sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer ournament ended without a feared attack.
Vehicle attacks have been used by isolated members of militant groups in recent years, notably in Israel, as well as in Europe, though never to such devastating effect.
One woman told France Info she and others had fled in terror: "The lorry came zig-zagging along the street. We ran into a hotel and hid in the toilets with lots of people."
Another woman told the station she was sheltering in a restaurant on the promenade with some 200 other people, where things had calmed down about two hours after the incident.
Writing online, Nice Matin journalist Damien Allemand who was at the waterside said the fireworks display had finished and the crowd had got up to leave when they heard a noise and cries.
"A fraction of a second later, an enormous white truck came along at a crazy speed, turning the wheel to mow down the maximum number of people," he said.
"I saw bodies flying like bowling pins along its route. Heard noises, cries that I will never forget."
American flight attendant Lee Jewell told The Globe: "I saw police officers trying to do CPR on one of the bodies. I saw one police officer step aside to vomit. I saw an empty baby stroller. It was a horrible scene."
The city, with a population of some 350,000 and a history as a flamboyant but also gritty metropolis in the sun, has seen some of its Muslim residents travel to Syria to fight, a path taken by previous Islamic State attackers in Europe.
Wassim Bouhlel, a Nice native who spoke to the Associated Press near Nice's Promenade du Paillon, said that he saw a truck drive into the crowd and then witnessed the man emerge with a gun and start shooting.
"There was carnage on the road," Bouhlel said. "Bodies everywhere."
World reaction was swift.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned "what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack." He was briefed on Thursday, the White House said.
Noting that the attack occurred on Bastille Day, Obama praised "the extraordinary resilience and democratic values that have made France an inspiration to the entire world."
Obama is offering French officials "any assistance that they may need to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also responded to the attacks, saying, "I was heartbroken to learn of the many dozens of innocent victims who were killed or injured as a result of today's terrorist attack that targeted Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France" in a statement.
"On behalf of all Canadians, I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed. We also wish a speedy recovery to the many more that were injured," the statement continued.
In some corners of Montreal, home to more than 100,000 French citizens, Bastille Day is celebrated with nearly the same fervour as in the streets of Paris. Revellers typically gather in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and drink the night away at local bars such as l'Barouf, a particularly popular spot among French expats.
However, as news from Nice, where dozens of people were killed after a truck plowed through a crowd, surfaced on social media, Thursday's festivities became an altogether more muted affair.
At a formal reception in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where the French consul-general, Catherine Feuillet, and Mayor Denis Coderre entertain members of the city's French community, Mr. Coderre ordered flags at City Hall to be flown at half-mast and quickly released a statement in which he expressed shock over the scope of the deadly attack.
"In this difficult moment, Montrealers stand in solidarity with the French people and the people of Nice," he said. "Liberté, egalité, fraternité. These values have never been as relevant."
U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he has postponed his news conference that was scheduled for Friday in which he intended to announce his vice-president because of the attack.
With files from Laurent Bastien, Michelle Zilio, Megan Dolski, Riley Sparks and The Associated Press