A truck ploughed into a crowd in the French resort of Nice Thursday, leaving at least 80 dead and 20 injured in an “attack” after a Bastille Dayfireworks display, prosecutors said.
France government said the driver of the truck was shot dead after barreling down the palm-lined Promenade des Anglais, sending hundreds of terrified people fleeing and leaving the seaside path strewn with fallen bodies.
“An individual drove a truck into the crowd. He was killed by police,” said interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet.
A photograph showed the front of the truck riddled with bullet holes and badly damaged, with burst tires.
Robert Holloway, an AFP reporter who witnessed the white truck driving at high 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.
Nice prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre said at least 70 (since revised to 80) people were killed after the truck drove two kilometers through the crowd.
Hours after the attack, dozens of bodies lay on the ground covered in white sheets.
Local government official Sebastien Humbert said scores more people were injured in what he called “a major criminal attack”.
While the incident has not been claimed by any group, prosecutors said the probe would be handled by anti-terrorist investigators.
The bloodshed comes eight months after Islamic State jihadist attacks on Paris nightspots left 130 people dead and scores injured, which already struck a blow to tourism in one of the world’s top destinations.
Islamic State has repeatedly singled out France as a prime target, and the country has been under a state of emergency ever since the November 13 Paris attacks.
An Australian citizen, Emily Watkins, was caught up in the chaos, and told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that while she saw the truck, she did not realize what had happened.
“There was a lot of screams coming from ahead of us where the truck was, and people just running towards us and without really knowing what was going on we turned and ran as well.
“People were tripping over and trying to get into hotel lobbies and restaurants or car parks or anywhere they could to get away from the street.”
The apparent assault came just hours after France announced that a state of emergency declared after last November’s attacks would come to an end later this month.
The incident comes after a day of revelry as France celebrated its national day, Bastille Day, which began with military pomp and ceremony as 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.
However celebrations were quickly overshadowed.