84 people were killed in the southern French city of Nice when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday at around 10:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, according to the French interior ministry.
The driver opened fire on the crowd before accelerating the explosives-loaded truck into nearby pedestrians, officials said.
The suspected driver of the truck may have been a resident of Nice who is from Tunisia, according to the French newspaper Nice-Matin, as well as unnamed officials cited by Sky News and other outlets. The French newspaper said identification belonging to a 31-year-old Franco-Tunisian man was found inside the truck.
Officials have not yet confirmed the driver’s identification or assigned responsibility for what was dubbed the latest act of terror to grip the nation.
The driver was shot dead by French police, sub-prefect Sebastien Humbert told France Info radio.
French President François Hollande called the attack “an absolute horror” and said he would request that the state of emergency in France — which was due to end on July 26 — be extended for another three months.
The terrorist nature of the attack “cannot be denied,” Hollande said. “France has been hit on its national day … our national symbol, because human rights are linked and attacked by fanatics.”
Hollande added that France would “reinforce” its actions in Iraq and Syria in response to the violence.
It was the third major act of terror in France since January 2015. Islamic State militants killed 130 people in a slew of shootings and bombings in Paris last November. On Sunday, France had breathed a sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer tournament ended without a feared attack.
Late Thursday, spectators had gathered to watch fireworks on the Promenade des Anglais seaside walk in the center of town when the truck plowed into the crowd. The suspect continued driving for more than a mile, the ranking politician of Alpes-Maritime Department told reporters.
Photo: Valery Hache/ AFP/ Getty Images.
The truck seemed to be driving at about “25 to 30” miles per hour, a witness told CNN. The street had been closed off and accessible only to pedestrians when the truck drove through the crowd.
“He was five meters from me. I ran toward a safe place at Le Cocodil. I went out after to see what happened. Nobody was moving anymore. In two minutes, the promenade became like a desert,” Damien Allemand, a correspondent with the regional newspaper Nice-Matin, told BuzzFeed.
He said: “I went to the scene and it was … I don’t have words. There was blood everywhere, a guy cut in half.”
An eyewitness told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that the truck driver “mowed bodies over” and “accelerated as he hit them.”
“All of a sudden, thousands of people just started running in one direction,” another witness told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I had no idea what was going on — we couldn’t hear anything but screaming and crying … no one knew what was going on, we all just knew we had to run for our lives.”
Said another witness: “The sounds were really horrific. You could hear banging sounds as the truck drove over people.”
“It was absolute chaos,” an AFP correspondent reported. “We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around. I had to protect my face from flying debris.”
“I’m in #nice and cannot describe the situation- scary awful,” a woman tweeted. “Dead bodies everywhere people killed in front of my eyes. Had to be planned.”
French television channel BFM TV said that the local prefecture in Nice was treating the incident as an attack and was asking people to stay home. Taxis are reportedly evacuating people from the scene for free.
“We are in touch with the local authorities and seeking more information following an apparent attack on a Bastille Day celebration in Nice. If you are in the area follow the instructions of the French authorities,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in updated travel advice on France.
“Paris, San Bernardino, Bruxelles, Orlando, Istanbul, Bagdad, Dallas, Nice. So many innocent lives destroyed,” Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the US, tweeted.
US president Barack Obama has been briefed on the attack.
“On behalf of the American people, I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians,” Obama said in a statement.
“We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack,” the statement continued. “On this Bastille Day, we are reminded of the extraordinary resilience and democratic values that have made France and inspiration to the entire world.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Twitter that “Our hearts are with the victims of what appears to be yet another unconscionable act of terror.”
The attack also provoked reaction from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees for president. Trump canceled a planned Friday unveiling of his vice-presidential pick while attacking Clinton’s “stupid policies.” Clinton, for her part, said the attack further reinforced that the US and its allies are at war with “radical jihadists.”
The video below appears to show people fleeing the scene in panic
jss dans nice y'a des mouvements de foule de mutant on sait pas pk pic.twitter.com/ByXnaig0Qk
— yannick (@yvnnick) July 14, 2016
Another video shows police chasing the truck as it speeds up along the promenade
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) July 14, 2016
Photos of the truck riddled with bullet holes have emerged on social media.
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) July 14, 2016
— Nice-Matin (@Nice_Matin) July 14, 2016
This story is developing and will be updated as more details emerge.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.