NICE — The Islamic State claimed responsibility yesterday for an attack in which a Tunisian drove a truck through a crowd in Nice, killing 84 and leaving at least 50 fighting for their lives, prompting hard questions in France over security failures.
In a statement through Amaq news service, IS said one of its “soldiers” carried out the attack on Thursday night “in response to calls to target nations of coalition states that are fighting (IS)”.
Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, smashed a 19-tonne truck into crowd in the Riviera city who were celebrating Bastille Day — France’s national day. Police said he had no known connection to militant groups.
French President Francois Hollande met with his defence and security chiefs and cabinet ministers as criticism from the opposition and media mounted over security failings after the third major attack in France in 18 months.
“If we are at war, as the government tells us, then the currency of war is intelligence, learning from experience, analysing failures and victories,” wrote Yann Marec in an editorial for the southern region’s Midi Libre newspaper.
He was one of several calling for action, and not merely “the same old solemn declarations” from the government, as Le Figaro daily said.
Some 30,000 people had thronged the palm tree-lined Promenade des Anglais on Thursday night to watch a fireworks display with their friends and families, but the night turned to horror as the truck left mangled bodies strewn in its wake.
Hollande said the country would observe three days of mourning as he warned the death toll could rise further, with more than 50 still fighting for their lives.
Four more people linked to Mohamed have been arrested. The driver’s estranged wife is also being held by police.
IS also claimed responsibility for Nov 13 attacks in which 130 people were killed in Paris, while gunmen in January 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo weekly and a Jewish supermarket were linked to both IS and Al-Qaeda.
The massacre has once again shaken France to its core, prompting questions about the effectiveness of security measures with the country already under an eight month-long state of emergency.
Presidential contender and former prime minister Alain Juppe said the latest carnage could have been prevented if “all measures” had been taken.
But government spokesman Stephane Le Foll slammed Juppe’s comments, saying there was as much security present for the fireworks display as there had been for the Euro 2016.
He said there were more than 185 police, gendarmes and soldiers on the ground, as well as municipal police and a vast network of surveillance cameras.
“Despite all of that, this man’s decisions … created the drama and horror we experienced.”
A French parliamentary inquiry last week criticised numerous failings by the intelligence services over the Paris attacks.
“We know of course that there are still flaws and shortcomings,” said Hollande.
“Government intervention is imperative in that area in order to better coordinate our intelligence services,” he added.
Anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins said the attack was “exactly in line with” calls from groups for supporters to kill in their home countries.
For several years, extremist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda have exhorted followers to strike “infidels” — singling out France on several occasions — using whatever means they have to hand.
In September 2014, IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, suggested supporters “run (infidels) over with your car”.
While some attacks on the West — such as the November assault on Paris and the March bombings in Brussels — were carried out by those who have been to the centre of IS operations in Iraq and Syria, others have been led by so-called “lone-wolf” attackers.
In Nice, the seaside streets that would normally be bustling on a summer weekend were near-deserted, with teary residents making their way to the promenade to lay flowers in memory of the dead.
At least 10 children and teenagers were among the dead as well as tourists from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Germany.
A five-day jazz festival in Nice has been canceled following the incident.
The festival, which had lined up acts such as Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour and British act Massive Attack, was scheduled to run from July 16
until 20. — Agencies