[PARIS] A truck ploughed into a crowd in the French resort of Nice Thursday, leaving at least 75 dead and scores injured in an attack after a Bastille Day fireworks display, officials said.
A lawmaker for the Alpes-Maritime region, Eric Ciotti, said at least 75 people had been killed and another 15 were in a “critical” condition.
The driver, who drove at high speed for over 100 metres along the famed Promenade des Anglais seafront before hitting the mass of spectators, was shot dead, sub-prefect Sebastien Humbert told France Infos radio.
Mr Humbert described it as a clear criminal attack, although the driver was not yet identified. Residents of the Mediterranean city close to the Italian border were advised to stay indoors. There was no sign of any other attack.
Hours after the attack, dozens of bodies lay on the ground covered in white sheets.
Prosecutors said the probe would be handled by anti-terrorist investigators.
Robert Holloway, an AFP reporter who witnessed the white truck driving at speed onto the seaside road, described scenes of “absolute chaos”.
“We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around. I had to protect my face from flying debris,” he said.
Almost exactly eight months ago Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris. On Sunday, France had breathed a sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer tournament ended without a feared attack.
"Dear Nicois," Nice mayor Christian Estrosi tweeted, "The driver of a truck appears to have killed dozens of people. Stay at home for the time being. More news to follow."
Regional newspaper Nice Matin quoted its 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." Social media carried images of people lying apparently lifeless in pools of blood.
US government agencies have received constant reports of Islamic State threats to attack France and those threats are regarded as current, a US security official said. However, two US officials said they had no information at this point about whether militants were involved in the Nice incident.
CNN said it has spoken to a witness, identified as an American pilot, who saw the truck ramming the crowd. The witness said the driver mowed people down, accelerating as he hit them. The witness said there was only one person in the truck.
Mr Estrosi has warned in the past of the risk of Islamist attacks in the region, following Islamic State bloodshed in Paris and Brussels over the past 18 months.
French President Francois Hollande, who was in the south of France at the time, had hours earlier said a state of emergency put in place after the Paris attacks in November would not be extended when it was due to expire on July 26.
"We can't extend the state of emergency indefinitely, it would make no sense. That would mean we're no longer a republic with the rule of law applied in all circumstances," Mr Hollande told journalists in a traditional Bastille Day interview.
Thursday’s bloodshed came after a day of revelry as France celebrated its national day, Bastille Day, which began with military pomp and ceremony as the pride of its armed forces, tanks and fighter jets swooped down the Champs Elysees avenue.
The holiday typically ends with spectacular fireworks over the Eiffel Tower in Paris, as well as cities around the country.