International desk – At least 81 people were killed after a lorry ploughed through a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations in the southern French city of Nice, officials said.
French interior ministry said many children are among the victims while condition of 18 other people was stated to be critical in hospital.
Media report say the driver of the lorry was shot dead by security forces. He was 31 years old and known to the police.
French President Francois Hollande said the country was “under the threat of Islamic terrorism”. He extended the exiting state of emergency for three more months.
According to witnesses, the truck careered for hundreds of metres along the famed Promenade des Anglais seafront, slamming into spectators watching the fireworks, listening to an orchestra or strolling above the beach towards the grand, century-old Hotel Negresco in Nice.
“It’s a scene of horror,” a local member of parliament, Eric Ciotti, told France Info radio, saying the truck had ‘mown down several hundred people.’
People went down like ninepins, said Jacques, who runs Le Queenie restaurant on the seafront.
‘I saw people go down,’ bystander Franck Sidoli, said adding that then the truck stopped. “We were just five metres away. A woman was there, she lost her son. Her son was on the ground, bleeding,’
Photographs of the truck posted on social media and newspaper show the truck’s windshield starred by a score of bullets and its radiator grille destroyed.
Major public events in France have been guarded by troops and armed police since the country witnessed deadly terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State militants last year.
Police told residents of the city, located 30 km from the Italian border, to stay indoors as they conducted further operations, though there was no sign of any other attack.
President Francois Hollande, who raced back to Paris from the south of France after the attack, was due to address a sleepless nation on television at 3:30 a.m.
Hours earlier, in a traditional Bastille Day interview, he had said an eight-month state of emergency might end in two weeks time.
Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, the bloodiest in a number of attacks in France and Belgium in the past two years.
On Sunday, a weary nation had breathed a collective sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer tournament across France ended without a feared attack.
Four months ago, Belgian Islamists linked to the Paris attackers killed 32 people in Brussels.
Vehicle attacks have been used by isolated members of militant groups in recent years, notably in Israel, as well as in Europe, though never to such devastating effect.
US President Barack Obama condemned the attack.
“On behalf of the American people, I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians,” said a statement issued by the White House.