A driver killed 84 people and injured more than 100 others when he steered his speeding truck into a crowd in Nice Thursday night at a celebration of Bastille Day, France's independence holiday. France's president said some 50 people are critically injured, many of them children. Many foreigners and police officers are also believed to be among the dead.
The attacker has been identified by French police as 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a French-Tunisian who lived in Nice. Reports say security services did not suspect him of links to terrorist or extremist groups, although he had been known to police for drug and criminal offenses.
No group has claimed responsibility, although the attack was celebrated online by Islamic State supporters. In an address to the nation, French President Francois Holland said the attack was done "to satisfy the cruelty of an individual and maybe a group." Speaking after visiting the hospital where victims were treated, he also said that France was "facing a struggle which will be long.''
President Barack Obama issued a statement and called it a “horrific terrorist attack” and said the U.S. had offered assistance in the investigation.
Celebration turns into tragedy
Although only the lone attacker has been identified, French police said they are still searching for suspects.
Video from Nice showed armed police vainly chasing the truck on foot as it raced along a seaside street, running down people who had been heading home after a Bastille Day fireworks display. The rampage ended when police shot dead the driver, who they say was armed with guns and explosives.
VOA producer Linda Ringe was staying in a hotel overlooking the Promenade des Anglais where the attack took place.
“I went to bed and started to hear people screaming and I saw people running, running, running, police, people crying, people screaming," she said.
She went downstairs and crossed the street where “there were many many bodies and we knew they were dead because they were covered with sheets.”
French president defiant
As France mourned the victims of another apparent terror attack, French President Hollande was defiant as he said the country remains under the threat of Islamic State.
"Nothing will make us give way in the fight against terrorism," Hollande said, addressing the nation early Friday. He cited the attacks in Paris last November, saying "we have to demonstrate absolute vigilance and show determination that is unfailing.”
The French leader met with security officials in the Elysee palace to consider what to do next. Prime Minister Valls addressed the public outside the palace, announcing that the country will observe three days of national mourning following the attacks.
Hollande said France's state of emergency, set to end later this month, will be extended another three months. He has also enacted the Operation Sentinel, introduced after terror attacks in January 2015 that allow 10,000 extra military personnel to boost the ranks of security forces across the country. He said France will strengthen its roles in Syria and Iraq.
French news reports said the Paris prosecutor's office, which handles major terrorism cases, had been put in charge of the investigation. Nice, France's fifth-largest city and the capital of the Cote d'Azur region, was put on lockdown by security forces in case further attacks might be planned.
Two U.S. citizens have been confirmed killed in the attack.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said the attack made her "sick at heart." Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, called the attack "horrible" and said he was postponing plans to announce his vice presidential running mate on Friday.
The truck's windshield was punctured by a volley of bullets, possibly fired by police, but some witnesses said the driver opened fire before he set out on his fatal ride along a two-kilometer stretch of pavement.
The lobby of a nearby luxury hotel was transformed into an emergency treatment center for the shocked and injured, and all hospitals in the Nice area were put on alert to receive the injured.
Thursday's slaughter was the third major terrorist attack in France since last year. A coordinated attack in Paris on November 13 killed at least 130 people in a strike claimed by Islamic State, and a series of attacks in January 2015 that began with an assault on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killed 17 people.