Friday, July 15, 2016
TERRORISM UPDATE: 2 Americans, 10 children among at least 84 killed in Bastille Day terror attack in Nice
A father and son from Texas and 10 children are among the 84 people murdered Thursday night when a terrorist plowed an explosives- and weapons-laden truck into a crowd of thousands gathered along a seaside promenade in Nice, France, to watch the city's Bastille Day fireworks.
The driver, who sources identified to Fox News as a 31-year-old Tunisian national, left a mile-long swath of carnage along the seaside walkway before police killed him in a shootout. French authorities did not hestitate to pronounce the attack, which began at 10:40 p.m. local time, an act of terrorism.
"Such a monstrosity," French President Francois Hollande said Friday morning. "France is deeply saddened, but it is also very strong. I can assure you we will always be stronger than the fanatics who are trying to attack us."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but two sources, including a U.S. counterterrorism source who collects and monitors jihadist social media, told Fox News that accounts linked to ISIS were “celebratory” and their followers were told to use the hashtag “Nice.”
The Americans were identified by a relative as Sean Copeland, 51, and his 11-year-old son Brodie. They were from the Austin area and were vacationing with other family members, according to relatives.
Hill Country Baseball, an Austin-area Little League where the boy played, also mourned their deaths on its Facebook page.
"Nobody deserves this type of fate, especially not such a wonderful family," a memorial passage stated. "You are in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers. Rest in peace, Brodie and Sean, you will be remembered by many."
Initial reports said the man, identified as Nice resident Mohamed Bouhlel, was driving alone in a rented truck. Bouhlel, who shot at revelers after driving through the crowd and was then killed by police, was reportedly known to police prior to the attack.
The death toll was confirmed by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve early Friday morning. A source told Fox News that two Americans – a father and his son – were among the dead in the attack.
Regional President Christian Estrosi also said that more than 10 children were among the dead. A children’s hospital in Nice said it had treated some 50 children and adolescents injured in the attack. Many of the dead were reportedly Muslim, including women whose bodies were seen still clad in the faith's head scarves.
Hollande announced that he would extend France's state of emergency by another three months, until Oct. 26. France has been on its highest state of alert since ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in Paris this past Nov. 13.
Thursday's attack ravaged one of Europe's most scenic tourist destinations.
“Why Nice?" Hollande asked. "Because it is a city that is known through the world – it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Why Bastille Day? Because it is the celebration of liberty.”
The Paris prosecutor's office announced that it was opening an anti-terrorism investigation into the attack. French police conducted several raids in Nice on Friday morning.
Estrosi said some of the city's 1,200 security cameras had pinpointed the moment the attacker boarded the truck, far from the seaside "in the hills of Nice" and could follow his path to the promenade. Estrosi called for the investigation to focus on any accomplices.
A U.S. official told Fox News that the attack was in line with ISIS, which has become "increasingly brazen" in its attacks as it comes under increasing military pressure in Iraq and Syria.
A 2010 edition of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's propaganda magazine "Inspire" also called on would-be terrorists to "use a pickup truck as a mowing machine ... to mow down the enemies of Allah."
A local government official told Fox News that the truck was driving full speed when it hit the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais, a major boulevard along the Mediterranean Sea.
Damien Allemand, a journalist for Nice-Matin, said the fireworks display was over and people were getting up to leave when they heard a loud noise and screams.
"A fraction of a second later, an enormous white truck came along at a crazy speed, turning the wheel to mow down the maximum number of people," he said. "I saw bodies flying like bowling pins along its route. Heard noises, cries that I will never forget.”
Allemand said people took shelter in a nearby restaurant, where he continued to hear people shouting for missing family members. He ventured out and saw bodies, blood and body parts all along the road.
"This evening, it was horror," Allemand concluded.
Nice-Matin posted an image of the truck on Twitter, captioning it, "The truck that drove into the crowd."
Another witness, Wassim Bouhlel, told The Associated Press that he saw the truck drive into the crowd, then witnessed the driver emerge with a gun and start shooting.
"There was carnage on the road," Bouhlel said. "Bodies everywhere."
Video showed men and women -- one or two pushing strollers -- racing to get away from the scenes. And, in what appeared to be evidence of a gun battle, photos showed a truck with at least half a dozen bullet holes punched through its windshield.
Graphic footage showed a scene of horror up and down the Promenade, with broken bodies splayed out on the asphalt, some of them piled near one another, others bleeding out onto the roadway or twisted into unnatural shapes.
"Help my mother, please!" one person yells out amid a cacophony of screaming and crying. A pink girl's bicycle is briefly seen overturned by the side of the road.
Nice's public prosecutor told reporters early Friday that bodies of victims were scattered for over a mile.
Another witness, identified only as Chloe, told FranceTV Info, "We heard gunfire, a lot. A crowd came to us and told us to run ... We went into a tapas bar and hid in the bathroom for half an hour.
"We went out and again we heard people running and saying 'truck, truck,' so we hid in the bathroom for an hour. The manager took us out by the back door and then I went home."
In addition to extending the country’s state of emergency and the Sentinel operation with 10,000 soldiers on patrol, Hollande said he was calling up "operational reserves," those who have served in the past and will be brought in to help police, particularly at French borders.
He reiterated that France is also bolstering its presence in Iraq and Syria, where he said earlier that military advisers would be on the ground to help Iraqis take back the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul.
President Obama said he condemned "what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack" in the strongest terms.
"On this Bastille Day," Obama said, "we are reminded of the extraordinary resilience and democratic values that have made France an inspiration to the entire world, and we know that the character of the French Republic will endure long after this devastating and tragic loss of life."
France's ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, characterized the events in Nice as a "terrorist attack."
"Our democracies -- France, the United States, our other partners, we are besieged, we face a terrible threat," Araud said at a Bastille Day reception at the French Embassy in Washington late Thursday.
Flags were lowered to half-staff in Nice and in Paris. Marseille also canceled their fireworks celebrations for Friday.
July 14 is a national holiday in France that commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris and the start of the French Revolution.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge, Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.