France mourns Nice victims as inquiry seeks answers on truck attack

Thousands of people gathered along the seaside promenade in Nice, France, on Monday to pay homage to the victims of a Bastille Day attack that left 84 people dead and hundreds injured when a man mowed down crowds of people with a truck.

A few lone French tricolour flags were held aloft and others flew at half-mast as the crowd held a moment of silence. A number of people then booed French Prime Minister Manuel Valls before crowds erupted in applause and cheers for firefighters and police officers.

France has seen three large-scale attacks in the past 19 months, and accusations abound since the attack in Nice about whether the government has done enough to protect the country from the threat posed by terrorism.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has accused the government of not having implemented all the measures that should have been put in place after attacks in Paris in November and shootings at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

But Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve defended France's actions on Monday, underscoring the additional security forces deployed as well as support for national intelligence services. Speaking on RTL radio, he cited laws passed that allow for, among other things, increased online surveillance of extremist websites.

Cazeneuve also said that investigators have so far established no link between the man who carried out the attack in Nice and terrorist networks, but that the "operational method borrowed completely from Islamic State messages that call for terrorist acts."

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks over the weekend, but prosecutors in France said the national intelligence agencies had no sign that the attacker - identified as 31-year-old, Tunisia-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel - had links to extremism.

Officials are puzzling over how Lahouaiej Bouhlel could have been radicalized so quickly and what that would mean for ensuring security.

Lahouaiej Bouhlel had fired shots from the truck, and additional weapons were found in the vehicle. But most of the carnage was caused by the workaday delivery truck itself as he drove 2 kilometres along the Riviera city's main promenade during the fireworks show celebrating Bastille Day.

Eighty-four people were killed, including 10 children and adolescents, and 308 people were injured, according to the latest numbers given by Cazeneuve. Of 58 people who remained hospitalized on Monday, 29 were on life support.

The attack prompted French President Francois Hollande to announce that France would continue strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and seek a prolongation of the country's state of emergency that was set to expire at the end of July.

Before a defence council meeting at the Elysee Palace on Monday, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said airstrikes had been carried out Saturday and would continue to be carried out - part of an ongoing mission that France joined over the past two years.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels on Monday, said they had pledged to continue helping France with its military interventions abroad, under an EU mutual defence clause first invoked by Paris last year.

The clause, contained in article 42.7 of the EU treaty, states that the bloc's countries have "an obligation of aid and assistance" if a member state is "the victim of armed aggression on its territory." The support allows French troops to focus on domestic security.

"The member states confirmed their availability to pursue and - many proposed it - to reinforce their assistance and their commitment to the fight against terrorism in the framework of Article 42.7," Ayrault told journalists in the Belgian capital.

Following the Elysee meeting in Paris, Hollande and Cazeneuve took part in a moment of silence at midday [1000 GMT] that coincided with that in Nice and was succeeded by similar ceremonies across France.

Florists in Nice used white flowers to cover the promenade where the truck ploughed through the crowd, broadcaster BFMTV and other French media reported.

For the brief Nice ceremony, held in front of the Monument du Centenaire statue, Valls was joined by regional authorities: Albert, the prince of Monaco; French national football team captain Hugo Lloris; and US Ambassador Jane Hartley.

Last update: Mon, 18/07/2016 - 16:26

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