A truck driver who steered his speeding truck into a crowd in France killed at least 77 people and injured 100 others in Nice late Thursday at a celebration of Bastille Day, France’s independence holiday.
France’s Interior Ministry confirmed the death toll and said the unidentified driver was “neutralized,” meaning he was shot to death by police. Officers later found the truck had been carrying explosives, grenades and other weapons.
The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened a terrorism investigation into the attack.
From the White House, President Barack Obama condemned “what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack” and directed U.S. officials to offer all assistance possible to French authorities.
French police say they are checking whether anyone else at the scene may have been involved in the plot.
The truck’s windshield was punctured by a volley of bullets fired by police. The driver has not been identified.
VOA producer Linda Ringe was at the scene in Nice, where bodies were scattered along the truck’s bloody, 2-kilometer-long path. Emergency workers spread sheets over the corpses where they fell as ambulances rushed to tend the wounded.
Witnesses said they are sure the carnage was deliberate, on a street that was closed to traffic at the time. The driver crashed through a barrier to enter the pedestrian zone, then steered a zig-zag course through the crowd, accelerating as he bore down on clusters of people trying to flee.
Metal panels at the front of the truck, which appeared to be either a freight carrier or a moving van, were crumpled by the force of the impact when it rammed into people running for their lives.
French President Francois Hollande called an immediate emergency meeting at the interior ministry’s crisis center in Paris.
Thursday’s slaughter was the third major terrorist attack in France since last year.
A coordinated attack in Paris on November 13 killed at least 130 people in a terror strike claimed by Islamic State, and a series of attacks in January 2015 that began with an assault on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killed 17 people.
From Washington, President Obama said: “I have directed my team to be in touch with French officials, and we have offered any assistance that they may need to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice. We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack.”
“On this Bastille Day,” the U.S. leader added, “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.”