French investigators were last night trying to piece together the circumstances that led to a man with no known terrorist links stealing a 19-tonne truck and driving it into Bastille Day revellers in Nice, leaving at least 84 people – including ten children – dead and scores more injured.
The driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a local chauffeur and petty criminal, was fatally wounded in a stand-off with armed police.
French prosecutor Francois Molins said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had driven the lorry about 1.2 miles along the Promenade des Anglais and fired at police before being shot dead.
Other weapons found inside the lorry were replicas or fake.
Mr Molins said no group had admitted carrying out the attack but that it bore the hallmarks of jihadist terrorism.
French president François Hollande said that 50 people were “between life and death”, while several people are still unaccounted for. A “small number” of Britons are among the injured.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain must redouble its efforts to defeat “brutal” terrorist “murderers”, while UK police forces have been told to review security at major events over the next week in the wake of the attack.
The Queen paid her respects on Friday night, sending a message to Mr Hollande saying: “I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the terrible loss of life in Nice.
“Prince Philip and I would like to offer our most sincere condolences to you, the families of those who have died, and the French people.”
France has declared three days of national mourning following the atrocity, and a vigil took place at Nice Cathedral on Friday night.
The horror in Nice comes after a series of attacks – including on a nightclub, sports stadium and restaurants – last November in Paris in which 130 people died, and in January 2015, when 17 were killed in attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and a kosher supermarket.
Mr Hollande said: “France has been hit by a tragedy once again. This monstrosity of using a lorry to deliberately kill people, many people, who only came out to celebrate their national day.
“France is in tears. It is hurting but it is strong, and she will be strong, always stronger than the fanatics who wish to hurt us.”
Eyewitnesses said the Nice truck driver – aged 31 and of French-Tunisian origin not known to intelligence services – swerved from side to side to kill as many people as possible as he drove along the city seafront.
France is in tears. It is hurting but she will be strong, always stronger than the fanatics who wish to hurt usFrancois Hollande
Locals from the Nice neighbourhood where Lahouaiej-Bouhlel lived said he did not seem religious and did not go to the mosque.
French authorities last night confirmed 202 people were wounded, 25 of whom are on life support, with 52 in a critical condition.
Revellers in the resort initially thought the commotion was part of a celebratory firework display, but then saw the lorry and assumed the driver had lost control.
Barman Robert Greene, from Dublin, was just metres from the vehicle. He said: “I saw this truck and he cut through three or four people, he was already missing the bumper. It was horrific.
“A woman dropped to her knees, someone in her family had been killed, just lying there. There was not even a thing anyone could do … It was horrific.”
He added: “There was a young child’s plastic tricycle, smashed up and left in bits.
“I stayed on top of the stairs looking around. It was surreal. People screaming, children crying, young children running around the place alone, a woman on rollerblades screaming for her child.”
Damien Allemand, a journalist with the Nice-Matin newspaper, said: “I saw bodies flying like bowling pins in its path. Heard noises, screams that I will never forget.”
New Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who had celebrated Bastille Day with dinner at the French Embassy in London, described the attack as “appalling and cowardly”.
Police forces in Britain will now review security at major events scheduled for the next week.
There were initial concerns for a Scottish couple reported missing in the wake of the attacks, but they made contact with relatives late on Friday.
The Association of British Travel Agents issued a statement encouraging holidaymakers to check with their tour operators before heading to France.