A large truck plowed into a crowd of pedestrians during Bastille Day celebrations in the popular French seaside city of Nice on Thursday, leaving at least 80 people dead in what the nation’s president has called “obviously a terrorist attack.”
The truck struck the crowd at around 10:40 p.m. local time (4:40 p.m. ET) shortly after a fireworks display.
“Such a monstrosity,” French President Hollande said. He pledged to step up efforts to fight terror in Iraq and Syria, and said he will seek to extend a state of emergency by an additional three months.
“France is deeply saddened, but it is also very strong,” Hollande said. “I can assure you we will always be stronger than the fanatics who are trying to attack us.”
The driver was fatally shot by police, Hollande said. It is unknown if there were accomplices, Hollande said. French media, citing a police source, reported that ID papers belonging to a French-Tunisian were found in the truck, along with guns and explosives.
“Islam has brought a level of violence and death to France that we have not seen since Nazi occupation. We have done nothing to these people.”
Eyewitness Andrew Botros described the scene as a “white truck literally racing through crowds of all ages.” The ranking politician of the Alpes-Maritimes department that includes Nice said the truck plowed into the crowd over a distance of 1.2 miles.
At the time of Hollande’s address, 77 people were confirmed dead. A short time later, the French interior minister said the death toll had risen to 84, and 18 others were in critical condition.
Witnesses described scenes of chaos after the truck hit the crowd.
“I looked up and saw, like, a tsunami wave of people just running towards me as fast as they possibly could screaming at the top of their lungs,” said Dr. Kevin Motamedi, a Denver physician on a tour of Europe. “And I just grabbed who I was with and started running as fast as possible. It was basically just complete mass hysteria.”
“It was the scariest moment of my life, easily,” Motamedi said. “As we were running, you could tell the people in front of us had no idea that anything was going on, so we were running and grabbing people saying, ‘Run. Go home!'”
Eric Dratell, an American lawyer on vacation in Nice with his wife said, “We started running for cover. People started jumping from promenade level onto the beach,”
“We took shelter with 200 or more people in an area under the promenade. People were in crowded toilet stalls,” he said.
France has been on edge since a series of coordinated terror attacks in Paris in November that left 130 people dead. The terror group ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility by ISIS through its official or unofficial channels, according to Flashpoint Intelligence, an international terrorism research organization.
Hollande said he will be calling up “operational reserves” to help police and a Sentinel operation allowing 10,000 troops to be on patrol would be maintained. He said the country’s military campaign against the terror group ISIS in Iraq and Syria would increase.
“Nothing will shake us and make us renounce the fight against terrorism,” Hollande said.