How did Nice killer truck go undetected on Bastille Day?
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French authorities remain under intense pressure as more security failings emerge six days after the gruesome truck attack on Bastille Day revellers in the coastal city of Nice.
France’s left-wing government and police officials have faced fierce criticism since Tunisia-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a 19-tonne truck along Nice’s packed sea-front promenade on July 14, killing 84 people and injuring scores more, before he was shot dead by police.
Much of the wrangling has so far focused on policing levels, with the head of the regional government in the southern Nice area, Christian Estrosi, accusing the government of “lying” about the number of officers deployed along the seafront, where the crowd had gathered to watch the traditional fireworks display.
On Wednesday, the Canard Enchaîné, a satirical weekly that is also a leading investigative newspaper, said records of police meetings showed officials had initially planned to introduce systematic body searches around the pedestrian area, before abandoning the plan “due to a shortage of personnel”.
It later emerged there was only one police vehicle barricading the pedestrian section of Nice’s famed Promenade des Anglais at the time of the attack, according to the daily Libération newspaper on Thursday.
But while security experts are sceptical that a stronger police presence would have prevented the carnage, others have expressed anger that Bouhlel was allowed to drive a heavy-duty truck in central Nice on France’s main public holiday.
All trucks over 7.5 tonnes were banned from moving in France on July 14, known as Bastille Day, when the country marks the start of the 1789 Revolution.
Furthermore, the Nice municipality bans trucks over 3.5 tonnes from the city centre, including the Promenade des Anglais, which stretches along the seafront.
And yet despite this double ban, investigators have confirmed that Bouhlel was able to drive his rental truck up and down the promenade hours before his attack – and take four selfies between 1:43pm and 7:25pm.
“It’s unreal,” said Patrick Mortigliengo, president of the National Federation of Road Transport Association in the Alpes-Maritimes region that covers Nice.
“A truck drives four times along the promenade on July 14 and nobody sees anything? What are all those cameras for?” Mortigliengo erupted in an interview with France Bleu radio, referring to the high number of surveillance cameras in Nice.
He also dismissed prosecutors’ claims that the vehicle was refrigerated, a factor that might have helped the attacker elude police controls. According to UK media reports, at one point prior to the carnage Bouhlel told police officers he had ice creams to deliver in the back of his vehicle.
“First, the body of refrigerated trucks is made of sealed plastic and the doors are much thicker,” Mortigliengo said. “Second, refrigerated trucks are equipped with fridges by brands like Thermo King, Carrier or another. Third, refrigerated trucks have an FR sign on the front that clearly marks them out.”
Critics have also lamented the failure to erect concrete barriers around the pedestrian zone, noting that such obstacles had been used to protect Nice’s fan zone during the Euro 2016 football tournament.
The Canard Enchaîné said police vehicles parked across the road would have provided a suitable alternative had they covered the full stretch of the seaside promenade. But the attacker was able to circumvent the makeshift barriers by driving on the sidewalk, which had been left unguarded.
Following the attack in Nice, officials in Paris said they will now use concrete barriers to block access to areas with large crowds, including the Paris Plages artificial beaches that opened on Wednesday on embankments along the River Seine.