NICE, France (AP) — A truck loaded with weapons and hand grenades drove onto a sidewalk for more than a mile, plowing through Bastille Day revelers who’d gathered to watch fireworks in the French resort city of Nice late Thursday.
At least 77 people were killed before police killed the driver, authorities said.
Nice prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre described a horrific scene, with bodies strewn about along the roadway and Sylvie Toffin, a press officer with the local prefecture, said the truck ran over people on a “long trip” down the sidewalk near Nice’s Palais de la Mediterranee, a building that fronts the beach.
Wassim Bouhlel, a Nice native who spoke to the AP nearby, said that he saw a truck drive into the crowd.
“There was carnage on the road,” he said. “Bodies everywhere.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for “murder, attempted murder in an organized group linked to a terrorist enterprise.”
President Barack Obama condemned what he said “appears to be a horrific terrorist attack.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and other loved ones of those killed,” he said.
The ranking politician of the Alpes-Maritime department that includes Nice said the truck plowed into the crowd over a distance of 2 kilometers (1.2 miles), killing 77 people and wounding 50. Many of those on the ground were in shorts and other summer clothing.
Eric Ciotti said on BFM TV that police killed the driver “apparently after an exchange of gunfire.”
The president of the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur regional council, which includes Nice, said the truck was loaded with arms and grenades. Christian Estrosi told BFM TV that “the driver fired on the crowd, according to the police who killed him.”
It was not immediately clear who would have been behind an attack, but France has recently seen a spate of dramatic assaults from by jihadist groups, including the Islamic State group which straddles Iraq and Syria.
European Council president Donald Tusk said it was a “tragic paradox” that the victims of the attack in Nice were celebrating “liberty, equality and fraternity” — France’s motto — on the country’s national day.
France’s ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, characterized the events as a “terrorist attack.”
Kayla Repan, of Boca Raton, Florida, was among the hundreds gathered on the promenade to watch fireworks.
“The whole city was running. I got extremely frightened and ran away from the promenade,” she said. “It was chaos.”
Written by CIARAN FAHEY and RAPHAEL SATTER, Associated Press. Satter reported from Paris.
Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley in Paris and Naomi Koppel in London contributed to this report.
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