UPDATES WITH FRENCH PRESIDENT’S NEW COMMENTS, NUMBER OF CRITICALLY INJURED
By Hajer M’tiri
PARIS (AA) – The attacker who killed at least 84 people in Nice was identified by local media Friday as a 31-year-old French-Tunisian who lived in the city.
The Nice-Matin newspaper named him as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian-born delivery driver. He was married with three children and reportedly in the process of a divorce.
His identity documents were found in the truck that mowed down crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on Thursday night and his identity was confirmed through fingerprints.
French media quoting neighbors described him as solitary, quiet and non-religious person.
He was said to be known to police for non-terror-related offenses. Nice-Matin said police were searching his apartment and questioning those who knew him.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced three days of national mourning from Saturday. “The goal of terrorists is to instill fear and panic but France is a great country and a great democracy that will not allow itself to be destabilized,” he said in televised remarks from Paris.
He added: “We want to achieve the unity of the nation. The only answer should be that of a united France.”
The prime minister said an extension to the state of emergency that has been in place since November’s attacks in Paris killed 130 would be discussed by the Cabinet and in parliament next week.
Before the Nice attack, it had been due to end on July 26 but will now run for a further three months.
After returning to Paris from Avignon in the south of France, President Francois Hollande held a security meeting at the Elysee Palace.
– 50 are “between life and death”:
Speaking from Nice, Hollande said 50 people are “between life and death” and people from a number of nationalities and many children are among the dead.
“Among the victims are French citizens as well as foreigners, who came from all continents. And there are a number of young children who came to watch fireworks with their families, who have been struck down just to satisfy the cruelty of one individual or possibly of a group,” Hollande said.
“We are facing a battle that will be long. Our enemy will continue to strike,” Hollande added, before continuing: “the whole world is watching us and expressing its solidarity. The world is thinking of us.”
The French leader said those who witnessed the attack will have to live with the psychological trauma.
A total of 188 people were admitted to hospitals on Thursday after the attack, French health authorities specified in statement. 48 of them are in a state of “absolute urgency”, including “25 in intensive care.”
The world police body, INTERPOL, said a team of its experts has been dispatched to Nice to help identify the victims.
“Incident Response Team being deployed to Nice to provide disaster victim identification assistance,” INTERPOL said on its official twitter account.
Hollande, Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve arrived in Nice Friday to meet security officials. Hollande earlier said the government had called up operational reserves to support gendarme and police forces and assist in controlling borders.
– ‘France clearly target’
“France has been struck on the day of her national holiday — July 14, Bastille Day — the symbol of liberty, because human rights are denied by fanatics and France is clearly their target,” Hollande had said earlier in Paris.
The president said the terrorist nature of the attack “cannot be denied” and declared France was under threat from “Islamist terrorism”. The attack would “strengthen our efforts in Syria and Iraq against those who are attacking us on our very soil,” he added.
The attacker drove a white refrigerated truck 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) through crowds of revelers who had been watching a fireworks display from the Promenade des Anglais at around 11 p.m. local time (2100GMT).
Witnesses said the driver, who was killed in the attack, was zigzagging in an attempt to hit people and began shooting randomly after stopping.
One told broadcaster BFMTV that he saw other men with guns in the truck. French authorities are working to determine if the attacker had any accomplices. Le Figaro newspaper quoted security sources as saying that “several weapons, guns and grenades were found inside the truck.”
More than 150 have been injured in the attack including 54 children, according to Nice-Matin.
Christian Estrosi, president of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, said around 10 children had been killed in the attack. He described the attack as “the worst tragedy in the history of Nice”.
According to reports, the truck used in the attack was rented two days ago in nearby Saint-Laurent-du-Var. Among items recovered from inside the vehicle were an identity card, a mobile telephone and a bank card all linked to Bouhlel.
Estrosi said CCTV images had been recovered of a man climbing into the truck minutes before the attack happened. BFMTV reported that the driver was able to access the promenade, which had been sealed off for the celebrations, by telling police he was delivering ice cream.
– Muslims condemn ‘odious’ attack
Counter-terrorism investigators from Paris have taken charge of the investigation under Chief Prosecutor Francois Molins.
Flags have been lowered across France and music events planned for Friday and Saturday have been canceled.
The French Muslim Council condemned the attack “with the greatest vigor”.
“France has been hit yet another time by a terrorist attack of the utmost severity,” the council said in a statement, adding that the “odious terrorist act took aim at our country on the very day of its national holiday, a day which celebrates liberty, equality and fraternity”.
The council called for French Muslims to pray Friday for “the memory of the victims of this barbarian attack.”
Following the attack, Italy tightened security along its land border with France, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said. The center of Nice is 22 kilometers (14 miles) from the Italian border.
Germany’s Federal Police said security at airports and on the French border would be increased.
A Russian, a Ukrainian and two Americans are among the dead, officials in their home countries said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.