NICE, France (AP) — A Tunisian living in France drove a large truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day along Nice's beachfront, killing at least 84 people, many of them children, according to police and hospital officials. The slaughter ended only after police killed the armed attacker in a hail of bullets.
French leaders on Friday extended the country's 9-month-old state of emergency and vowed to deploy thousands of police reservists on the streets after Thursday night's massacre of pedestrians leaving a fireworks display for France's independence day.
Video shot by bystanders shows the truck coming under police gunfire as it drives through an intersection into the pedestrian promenade. Crowds flee in panic, taking shelter in shops, hotels or leaping off the elevated pavement onto the beach below. Police finally surround the stationary truck and fatally shoot its driver.
Police identified the attacker as Mohamed Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Nice resident, and said he had drawn a gun on them. The truck's front windshield was riddled with bullets.
Video footage showed the truck driving slowly down the southern French city's famous, palm tree-lined Promenade des Anglais boulevard, which had been sealed off and turned into a pedestrian-only party zone.
German tourist Richard Gutjahr filmed the moment when an unidentified motorcyclist rode alongside the truck and grabbed hold of the driver's door as two other police officers on foot nearby fired a single shot each at the driver's windscreen. But the truck accelerated through an intersection into screaming crowds, where Gutjahr could hear the final confrontation involving 15 to 20 seconds of gunfire.
"Police were everywhere in town for the day. They clearly saw he was a danger, because that truck should never have been on the road," said Gutjahr, who took cover as police started shooting because he feared the truck might contain a bomb.
"France was struck on the day of its national holiday, July 14, the symbol of liberty," French President Francois Hollande said as he denounced "this monstrosity."
No group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, but French officials called it an undeniable act of terror. The assault on revelers rocked a nation still dealing with the aftermath of two attacks in Paris last year that killed 147 people and were claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.
"Terrorism is a threat that weighs heavily upon France and will continue to weigh for a long time," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after Hollande called an emergency government meeting Friday. "We are facing a war that terrorism has brought to us. The goal of terrorists is to instill fear and panic. And France is a great country, and a great democracy, that will not allow itself to be destabilized."
Hollande told reporters Friday that about 50 people were still "between life and death" after the attack.
Politicians said the truck knocked over and crushed pedestrians over a distance of 1-1/4 miles. Broadcast footage showed a scene of horror along Nice's famous promenade, with broken bodies splayed on the asphalt, some piled near one another, others bleeding onto the roadway or twisted into unnatural shapes.
The regional president, Christian Estrosi, told BFM TV that "the driver fired on the crowd, according to the police who killed him." He said more than 10 children were among the dead, which also included two Americans, Moroccans and Armenians and one person each from Russia, Switzerland and Ukraine.
"A person jumped onto the truck to try to stop it," Ciotti told Europe 1 radio. "It's at that moment that the police were able to neutralize this terrorist. I won't forget the look of this policewoman who intercepted the killer."
Estrosi said some of the city's 1,200 security cameras had pinpointed the moment the attacker boarded the truck, far from the seaside "in the hills of Nice" and could follow his path to the promenade. Estrosi called for the investigation to focus on any accomplices.
"Attacks aren't prepared alone. Attacks are prepared with accomplices," Estrosi said. "There is a chain of complicity. I expect it to be unveiled, discovered and kept up to date."
Damien Allemand, a journalist for the Nice-Matin newspaper 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 wrote in an online account. "I saw bodies flying like bowling pins along its route. Heard noises, cries that I will never forget."
On video, one person could be heard yelling, "Help my mother, please!" A pink girl's bicycle was overturned by the side of the road.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department confirmed that two Americans were among the dead and President Barack Obama condemned what "appears to be a horrific terrorist attack."
Sean Copeland, 51, and his son Brodie, 11, of Lakeway, Texas, were on a European summer vacation that began with the running of the bulls in Spain.
France, one of the world's top tourist destinations, has long known it is a top target for the Islamic State group. In September 2014, then-IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani referred to "the filthy French," telling Muslims within the country to attack them in any way they could, including "crush them with your car."
France is also Islamic State's biggest source for European recruits. Nice itself was home to a prolific producer of French-language jihadist recruitment videos, Omar Omsen, who is now fighting in Syria.
Satter reported from Paris, Hinnant reported from Perigueux France, Keaten reported from Geneva. Also contributing were Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, Naomi Koppel in London, Josh Replogle in Miami.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted on Fri, July 15, 2016
by PHILIPPE SOTTO, Associated Press RAPHEL SATTER, Associated Press JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press L