Nice, France terror attack scene

Image courtesy of Telegraph

Terror Attack in Nice Kills 84,
Wounds Hundreds

| published July 15, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

A man driving a heavy truck loaded with weapons, several guns, ammunition and apparently fake grenades killed at least 84 people on a crowded street along the waterfront in the seaport town of Nice, France. Thousands of people were crowded into the wide boulevard and sidewalks watching fireworks and listening to outdoor music in celebration of Bastille Day when the attacker struck.

Though eyewitness accounts vary, some have reported a brief gun battle between the driver of the truck and police after the truck came to a halt. Other witnesses say that the driver used a gun to shoot at people from the cab of the truck in the seconds before he began to accelerate into the crowds.

In addition to the 84 dead, at least 120 more have been injured.

European and French law enforcement have identified the assailant as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian born French citizen. Officials say the attack appears to be the act of a single militant, and not the work of a larger terrorist cell. However, other police and intelligence officials offer a contrasting view, suggesting that a truck loaded with weapons and ammunition would be of little effective use to a single militant, and would seem to be only a part of a larger terrorist plot.

Some newspapers in France have said that Bouhlel, the driver of the truck, was either a French-born citizen of Tunisian origin, or a Tunisian immigrant working in France. Police have not confirmed those reports, though they have said that an identification card and other forensic evidence found inside the truck points to the 31-year-old Bouhlel, a man with a record of petty criminal activity.

Witnesses to the attack say that the driver appeared to deliberately target the most crowded corridor along the Promenade de Anglais, adjacent to the waterfront, as the truck careened at extremely high speeds, covering a distance of more than three quarters of a mile in only about two minutes. At times, the truck was seen zigzagging to deliberately plow into areas where large numbers of people were crowded.

Photos and cell phone videos of the truck after it came to a stop show a front-end, windshield and grille pocked with bullet holes, evidence of the desperate attempt by heavily armed police and French security to stop the vehicle, and evidence of the violent exchange of gunfire which killed the driver.

A one mile-long stretch of the seaside road and adjoining areas is now sealed off and has been declared a crime scene by French police. Sources report that police and French law enforcement will be studying surveillance imagery and security camera footage from every angle along the Promenade for a better understanding of how the attack unfolded.

The attack comes eight months after a group of militants laid siege to parts of Paris, detonating bombs at a soccer stadium, opening fire on diners at cafes and restaurants, and launching a brutal attack on a rock concert venue in which nearly 100 died as a result of automatic weapons fire. 130 people died in the Paris attacks last year, and in Belgium only a month later, a series of attacks for which ISIS took responsibility.

The Islamic State has not, thus far, taken any responsibility for the Bastille Day attacks.

Police and French authorities urged residents to stay in their homes and asked that tourists stay indoors or in their hotel rooms until law enforcement can be certain that there are not more attacks planned, or that the truck attack was a botched component of a much larger assault. The presence of additional guns and ammunition worry some police who fear that the truck attack was merely one piece of a larger plot.

According to police, Bouhlel has a criminal record of minor but violent infractions, including robbery, muggings and theft, though at this time—according to media reports—no direct links to terror organizations.

French President Francois Hollande addressed the French people on television during the night, asking for calm and urging that the nation resolve itself to combat terror. President Hollande also travelled to Nice to pay a personal visit to those now recovering in hospitals in Nice. The White House said that the U.S. would offer any available assistance to France as law enforcement agencies around the world went on high alert and as intelligence communities pored over any information which may have offered clues to the attacker’s motives or movements.

The attack will surely alter the trajectory of the U.S. Presidential election, and will likely change the tone and narrative for the conventions of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. Security in Cleveland, Ohio, site of the GOP’s convention next week, is now being tightened even more as concerns about lone wolf attacks—inspired or directed by ISIS or not—worry some in law enforcement who see the massive crowds as an alluring target to a potential terrorist.

The Nice attack also prompted presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump to delay his long-awaited announcement of his running mate, now presumed to be Mike Pence of Indiana. The attack also spurred Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to shift her campaign focus away from verbal assaults on Trump and more toward foreign policy and terror, a sticking point for her campaign as some polls show U.S. voters are more inclined to agree with Republicans on matters of security and the fight against terror.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Paris Death Toll Rises to 130; Thursday Review staff; November 20, 2015.

Brussels Terror Attacks Leave 31 Dead, Hundreds Wounded; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; March 22, 2016.