French city comes to terms with a brutal terror attack

Updated: 2016-07-16 02:09

By Angus McNeice in Nice and Tuo Yannan in Paris(

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French city comes to terms with a brutal terror attack

One of the injured victims leaves the hospital in Nice, France after a truck ran into a crowd at high speed killing 84 who were celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday in the French resort town on July 15, 2016. [Photo by Angus McNeice/China Daily]

Walking along the Rue de France, which runs parallel to the chic Promenade des Anglais, it seems to be business as usual - people sitting under canopies at bars and brasseries on the side of the road - tourists and dog walkers strolling past shops, enjoying the summer sun.

But the dozens of people filing down the Rue Cronstadt, toward the sea, tell another story.

They are heading to lay flowers at the site of France's latest terror atrocity.

A total of 84 men, women and children were killed when a 31-year-old Tunisian-born man drove a rented 19-tonne truck for over a mile through crowds who had gathered on the coastal road in central Nice to watch the annual firework display marking Bastille Day, France's national celebration of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite (Freedom, equality and brotherhood) last night.

Another 202 were injured, 50 of them critically, as the driver, named as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, exchanged gunfire with police before he was shot dead at the wheel.

Police found two automatic pistols, two Kalashnikov assault rifles, two US-made M16s, ammunition and a grenade, as well as a mobile phone and identity papers.

French President Francois Hollande immediately summoned 3,000 army reservists to join the 7,000 police, paramilitaries and soldiers who have been protecting France since last November's gun and suicide bomber attacks killed 180 people and wounded over 360 in the Paris region. He also extended the state of emergency by three months, making it nine months in all.

Prime minister Manuel Valls said in a statement before flying to Nice with Hollande: "Terrorism is a threat that is weighing heavily on France."

"We're faced with a war that terrorism has brought us. Times have changed, and we should learn to live with terrorism."

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the driver's ex-wife, also 31, had been detained and was being questioned. He did not name her.

French city comes to terms with a brutal terror attack

A woman places a bouquet of flowers as people pay tribute near the scene where a truck ran into a crowd at high speed killing scores and injuring more who were celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday, in Nice, France, July 15, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

In Nice, most people trying to lay flowers were told to stop by a policeman at the flimsy checked tape at the end of the road, though some were allowed to pass on to the Promenade to lay down their offerings.

"We came here to show that we care," Theresa, a tourist visiting from Switzerland in town with her daughter, said. "We arrived the day before it happened. It's terrible."

Guests with ocean front rooms at La Negresco hotel had explicit views of the attack and its aftermath.

"There were about 30 people on the street I could see from my balcony that looked deceased, there was blood everywhere," said an Australian visitor at the hotel who requested anonymity. "The ambulances were having trouble getting to them."

Following the attack, taxi drivers offered free service to those that needed to get home or to the hospital.

"I wasn't working but my son was," taxi driver Jaime Calaharro, 63, said. "He worked until 4 a.m. taking people to the hospital. One family needed help - a woman and a man and a child - but they couldn't leave because they couldn't find their other child."

Friends and family, their eyes red from a night of crying, huddled on concrete benches outside the Hopital Pasteur, one of Nice's two main hospital where scores of injured were transported.

"Nice is a bubble - it's a nice town, nothing happens here," Christian Paoli, 45, a taxi driver from Corsica, said. "Tourism is important for the town. I don't know what's going to happen - it's action then reaction - I don't know what for the economy."

"I think people are fed up, I've heard people saying 'OK, we will cry another time, we will put flowers and candles another time, but what? We must act.' They want the government to make a decision, to not comment any more but to do something, but what can we do against ideology? The problem is ideology."

"An extreme brings another extreme - that is the risk."

Officials said the dead included 10 children, and amongst the casualties were a number of foreign nationals. Two Chinese nationals are being treated in hospital.

Diego Arribas from Barcelona in Spain said he had a friend who was being treated in hospital.

"We saw the truck coming, but we couldn't get out of the way – my friend was hit and we saw a small kid go under the truck. We picked up him, and another, and my friend."

"We didn't know where to go that was safe. Everyone was screaming. It was a madhouse," he told China Daily.

Zhun Jun, a Chinese tour guide in Nice, told China Daily he was looking after six Chinese customers from Henan Province, who elected to continue their visit to France and not head back to China yet.

Zhu, who has worked in Nice for several years, said the number of Chinese visitors to the area had dropped in the past 12 months because of security concerns.

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