Sorrow overshadowed the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice on Thursday when a truck bulldozed crowds of people who were watching the firework display along the Promenade des Anglais, killing 84 people and critically injuring more than 200.
There were approximately 30 000 people on the Promenade des Anglais at the time of the attack, of whom many were tourists and children. Some of the victims identified were two American citizens, a Ukranian, a Russian and a Swiss woman. Nice pediatric hospital, Fondation Lenval, reported having treated about 50 children and adolescents, including two who died before or after surgery.
The driver, who was shot and killed by police, was identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old French-Tunisian, whose identity document was found in the truck that he reportedly rented two days before the attack in the Saint-Laurent-du-Var suburb. Tunisian security sources reported that Bouhlel came from M’saken, a town in north-eastern Tunisia, and was married with three children. Although the driver had previously experienced run-ins with the police for petty crime, Tunisian authorities stated that he was not known to possess radical Islamist views. He was a resident of Route de Turin but visited Tunisia frequently. The last time was eight months ago. Other tenants in his apartment building referred to him as a loner, saying he would not respond when they greeted him.
French President François Hollande referred to the attack as of an “undeniable terrorist nature” and has called for an extension of the state of emergency. The Republic has received international support in response to the tragedy. US President Barack Obama condemned the attacks while newly appointed UK Prime Minister Theresa May shared her shock and horror. Even South African President Jacob Zuma offered his condolences to the French nation and its people denouncing what he called the “cowardly attacks.”
News24 South Africa reported on Friday that among the survivors were the South African Meistre family, who were buying sweets at a small street store minutes before the attack but managed to run to refuge in time. The South African Department of International Relations and Co-operative Governance (Dirco) is still not sure as to whether there were any South African citizens among the dead, but spokesperson Clayson Monyela said that his people on the ground would continue monitoring the situation.
Terrorist attacks in France
In the past six years, the Republic has been victim of numerous acts of terrorism all seemingly under the name of the Islamic State. In June 2016, a man who claimed his allegiance to ISIS killed two police officers in Magnanville, close to Paris. In November 2015, France saw its worst and deadliest terror attack yet that occurred in Paris where seven gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 and injured more than 350. In June 2015, a man suspected linked to Islamist radicals decapitated his boss after having driven his car into a Lyon factory containing flammable liquids. In January 2015, a three-day killing spree that started with an attack on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, office left 17 people dead. Finally in March 2012, a gunman killed seven people in Toulouse and Montauban, of whom included a teacher and three children at a Jewish school.
State of emergency
The French President told the press on Tuesday that the state of emergency would soon come to an end. However given Thursday’s attacks, the President intends to extend it once again. This entails increased police and military surveillance on the streets, scanners and metal detectors at certain stores, regular bag searches and tighter checks at France’s borders.
Although France is putting all of her efforts into securing her people and institutions, not all terrorist attacks can be prevented. Furthermore, the increased security measures the country seeks to implement along with the heightened paranoia felt may threaten its three golden principles upon which the Fifth Republic was founded: liberty, fraternity, and equality. Since the call to extend the state of emergency last year, security forces have conducted warrantless house raids, seized personal data, and placed people on house arrest all without legal authorisation. Discrimination towards Muslims and/or individuals of Arab descent is not a new occurrence in France; however, it will, and already is, escalating as a reaction to the terrorist attacks where Muslim people are often viewed as potential suspects. This means that in the country with one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, people of this religion, many of whom are French citizens, will be treated unfairly, nurturing hatred within French society.
The recent battles of the war on terror are intensifying the discrimination and misunderstanding targeted at Muslims, who are more and more mistakenly and wrongfully associated with the radical Islamist group on the grounds of their religion. It is important that people be conscious of the differing principles and value systems between the two. Simply put: they are not the same, and Muslim individuals should not be held accountable for terrorist activity in which they had absolutely no involvement.