NICE, France (AP) — France was ravaged by its third attack in two years when a large white truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, killing at least 84 people as it bore down on the crowd for more than a mile along the Riviera city's famed seaside promenade.
The attack Thursday night on France's national holiday rocked a nation still dealing with the aftermath of attacks in November in Paris that killed 130 and in January 2015 that killed 17.
Police killed the driver "apparently after an exchange of gunfire," Eric Ciotti, the ranking politician of the Alpes-Maritime department that includes Nice, told BFM television.
The truck plowed into the crowd over a distance of two kilometers (about 1.2 miles), he said, and broadcast 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 onto the roadway or twisted into unnatural shapes.
Wassim Bouhlel, a Nice native, told The Associated Press that he saw a truck drive into the crowd. "There was carnage on the road," he said. "Bodies everywhere." He said the driver emerged with a gun and started shooting.
Flags were lowered to half-staff in Nice and in Paris and the state of emergency imposed after the November bloodshed was extended another three months.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who traveled to the scene, said police were trying to determine the driver's identity, refusing to confirm reports an ID card had been found in the truck.
Partiers in summer apparel ran for their lives down Nice's palm-tree-lined Promenade des Anglais, the famous seaside boulevard named for the English aristocrats who proposed its construction in the 19th century, according to French broadcasts of the attack.
"France was struck on the day of its national fete, July 14, the symbol of liberty," a somber President Francois Hollande said on national television early Friday, denouncing "this monstrosity" — a truck bearing down on citizens "with the intention of killing, smashing and massacring ... an absolute violence."
"The terrorist character (of the attack) cannot be denied," he said. "All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorists."
Hollande said it was not immediately clear whether the driver had accomplices. The Paris prosecutor's office opened an investigation for "murder and attempted murder in an organized group linked to a terrorist enterprise."