2 Americans among 84 dead in France attack

An eyewitness has told The Associated Press that he saw a truck driver slam a vehicle into a crowd of revelers in the French resort city of Nice and then emerge shooting, killing many. (July 14)

NICE — French President Francois Hollande said Friday that 50 people, including many children, remained in critical condition after a terrorist drove his truck into crowds of revelers along a seaside promenade in Nice, killing 84 people, including two Americans.

Two French police officials say identity papers found alongside the attacker, who was shot and killed by police, belonged to a 31-year-old Frenchman, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who is of Tunisian descent. The officials said he had previous misdemeanor convictions but no known link to extremist groups, according to the Associated Press.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, cautioned that DNA and identity checks with acquaintances were pending to fully verify the identity.

French investigators have not established a motive for Thursday night's attack in which the driver of a large truck mowed down scores of people gathered along a one-mile stretch of the Promenade des Anglais for the annual Bastille Day celebrations. In addition to children, Hollande said "many foreigners" were also among the injured.

It was the worst terrorist attack in France since 130 people were killed in Paris in November and is likely the deadliest rampage ever by a lone attacker.

The French president, who flew to Nice on Friday, delivered a televised update on the attack and the condition of victims and praised first responders for their work.

He said the attack was carried out "to satisfy the cruelty of an individual, maybe a group" and called on the French people to maintain their "unity and cohesion" in the face of the tragedy.

"We are dealing with a struggle that will take a long time, because we have an enemy who will continue to strike all peoples, all countries that have freedom as a fundamental value," he said.

Hollande, who described the attack as "despicable," extended the nation's state of emergency, due to expire this month, for another three months, and will supplement the 7,000 troops securing critical sites around France with a call up of reserves tasked with tightening border security.

"We can overcome this evil because we are France, as one," he added..

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced three days of national mourning, starting Saturday.

"We will not give in to terrorist threats," he said. "We are in a new era. France has been struck once again in her flesh. They wanted to harm the very idea of national unity."

The U.S. State Department confirmed that two vacationing Americans were among those killed. They were identified as Sean Copeland, 51, and his 11-year-old son Brodie, of Austin, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“We are heartbroken and in shock over the loss of Brodie Copeland, an amazing son and brother who lit up our lives, and Sean Copeland, a wonderful husband and father,” the family said in a statement, the newspaper reported. “They are so loved.”

The foreign ministries of Armenia, Ukraine and Switzerland also report one of their citizens was killed in Nice.

Friday morning, a huge section of the famous promenade in Nice was closed off, and victims and families of the dead who came to pay their respects to the fallen were unable to access the scene to lay flowers, light candles or mourn there.

Off the promenade, police ships stood as a reminder that this city is under partial lockdown: City officials advised residents to stay home.

Tourists, here on the French Riviera during its busiest season, were unsure what to do, milling around, wondering what would actually be open – the beach was closed. Police officers in boats were stopping along the shore to tell them to leave.

Some like Ruth Tobassen of Norway who arrived Thursday with her husband decided to switch hotels after the attacks the night before.

She and her husband decided against attending the fireworks because "we were so hungry" after we arrived. Because it was too windy, they also decided to avoid the terrace and sit inside the restaurant.

"A bunch of people ran in, in panic," she recalled. "They were looking for people they lost, couldn't find them. A grandfather sitting with a child in his lap on the floor just cried. It was tragic."

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.”

President Obama condemned the attacks in a statement, and offered French officials "any assistance that they may need to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice. We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack."

The two presumptive presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were quick to address the attack.

Republican Trump tweeted that "In light of the horrible attack in Nice, France, I have postponed tomorrow's news conference concerning my Vice Presidential announcement." He told Bill O'Reilly of Fox News that he would ask Congress for a declaration of war, if he were president.

Democrat Clinton told CNN's Anderson Cooper that "it's clear we are at war with these terrorist groups, but it's a different kind of war, and we have to be smart about how we wage it and win it."

The terror attack came at the height of the summer tourism season in Nice, one a string of resort cities along France's southern coast.

Witnesses described scenes of unimaginable panic and bloodshed that has become a numbing refrain in the wake of recent terrorist attacks that include suicide bombings at the Istanbul airport on June 28 and shooting and machete murders in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1.

Images and video broadcast on social media show the truck streaming through a crowd at a high rate of speed, followed by dozens dashing from the scene. One photo appears to show several bullet holes in the truck's windshield after police fired upon it. Other photos show bodies covered in tarps.

"Thank God we decided not to take the young ones" to see the Bastille Day fireworks, witness Yves Lamorelle said. "I am the only one who went. It was completely crazy, the crowd panicked and everyone was trying to flee."

"I was having a drink but after a few minutes people started running toward us from the promenade ... Then all the cafe terraces started to clear out in a scary type of chaos. The tables, the chairs, the glasses got turned over. People were stepping on top of each other without even knowing why."

The attack was the latest in a series of terror incidents to hit the country in the past two years.

On Jan. 7, 2015, Islamist militant brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris, beginning three days of terror that left 17 people dead. The victims included a policewoman and hostages at a kosher grocery who were killed by another militant, Amedy Coulibaly. All three attackers were killed in standoffs with police. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility.

On Nov. 13, 2015, 130 people died in a series of coordinated attacks across Paris that included explosives and shots fired at a concert hall during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal, a California rock band. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Contributing: Jabeen Bhatti in Berlin; Doug Stanglin, Matthew Diebel and Jessica Durando in McLean, Va.; Melanie Eversley and Marco della Cava, and The Associated Press


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