At least 73 people are dead and more than 100 injured after they were mown down by a truck in a suspected terror attack during the Bastille Day celebrations in the French city of Nice.
Eyewitnesses say there was an exchange of gunfire in the aftermath of the incident before the driver was shot dead. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to unconfirmed reports in the French media.
Guns and grenades were later said to have been found inside the truck, which mounted the pavement at approximately 40mph and steered directly towards hundreds of people watching a fireworks display.
Anti-terror police swooped in as the city was put on lockdown and residents were warned to stay indoors for their safety. Gunshots rang out in the streets, with gunmen targeting hotels and cafes in the port city in the south of France.
One witness called Antoine said: ‘We were at the Neptune beach and a firework display had just finished. That is when we saw a white lorry. It was going quickly at 60-70 kilometres an hour.’
The gunman jumped out of the truck after ploughing through the pedestrians and began opening fire, witnesses said. Officials said the driver was shot dead near the scene. A second suspect is thought to be on the run.
Eyewitness Wassim Bouhlel said that he saw a truck drive into the crowd and then witnessed the man emerge with a gun and start shooting.
‘There was carnage on the road,’ Bouhlel said. ‘Bodies everywhere.’
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Gunfire and “Bodies Everywhere”
A spokesman for the Alpes Maritime prefecture advised locals to ‘stay indoors’ as gunfire was heard, and a lorry was driven into a crowd on the Promenade des Anglais.
Eyewitnesses said there were ‘bodies everywhere’ with at least 100 people injured.
The truck driver crashed his vehicle and jumped out and started shooting.
Police are also searching for an accomplice.
At this stage, police are describing the incident as ‘a major criminal attack’.
Sebastian Humbert, prefect for the Alpes – Martime area said: ‘A truck rammed into the crowd over a long distance, which explains this extremely heavy toll.’
Fireworks were filling the night sky as the drama unfolded, as the crowds enjoyed July 14th, which is always a Bank Holiday in France.
‘It is absolute chaos,’ said an eye witness who works in the Nice judiciary. ‘There are reports of dozens of people killed, and many more injured. Bodies are lying everywhere.
‘Police are flooding the streets, including anti-terrorism officers. Nobody knows what to do, except to hide away. Gunmen are meant to be targeting hotels.’
The lorry was seen mounting the pavement and piling into anyone the driver could see, ramming over those who tried to run away.
Regional newspaper Nice Matin quoted its own reporter at the scene saying there were many injured people and blood on the street. It published a photograph of a damaged, long-distance delivery truck, which it said was ‘riddled with bullets’ and images of emergency services treating the injured.
Damien Allemand, the paper’s correspondent, was quoted as saying: ‘People are running. It’s panic. He rode up onto the Prom and piled into the crowd … There are people covered in blood. There must be many injured.’
The area around the Promenade is full of hotels and restaurants, which that were all packed at the height of the holiday season.
France is still under a State of Emergency following last year’s attacks on Paris, when almost 150 people were murdered by ISIS and Al-Qaeda operatives.
Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, who was at the celebration when it happened, tweeted: ‘Dear people of Nice, the driver of a truck seems to have left dozens dead. Stay for now in your home. More info to come.’
Both groups are well known for driving vehicles into innocent people, prompting fears that tonight’s incident could be linked to their activities.
Bastille Day, which celebrates the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris during the French Revolution of 1789, is the country’s biggest public holiday.
The truck rammed into the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais seaside walk in the centre of town, regional newspaper Nice Matin reported, citing its own reporter at the scene.
French television channel BFM TV said the local prefecture in Nice was treating the incident as an attack and was asking people to stay at home.