France orders Nice policing inquiry after Bastille Day attack
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France’s government said on Thursday it was ordering an inquiry into allegations of lax security the night of the Bastille Day attack in Nice, as lawmakers voted to extend a nationwide state of emergency for a further six months.
French President François Hollande promised "truth and transparency" from the inquiry, a week after Tunisia-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a 19-tonne truck along Nice’s packed sea-front promenade, killing 84 people and injuring scores more.
"When there is a tragedy, or in this case an attack with many dead... there will naturally be questions," Hollande said during a visit to Dublin, adding that the conclusions of the police probe would be announced next week.
France’s left-wing government and police officials have faced fierce criticism since the gruesome attack, the third major terrorist attack on French soil in 18 months.
Much of the wrangling has focused on policing levels, with the head of the regional authorities in the southern Nice area, Christian Estrosi, accusing the central government of “lying” about the number of officers deployed along the seafront, where large crowds had gathered for the annual fireworks display that marks Bastille Day, France's main national holiday.
On Thursday, the daily Libération newspaper said there was only one police vehicle barricading the pedestrian section of Nice’s famed Promenade des Anglais at the time of the attack, apparently contradicting claims by officials that several vehicles had been parked across the road.
The Canard Enchaîné, a satirical weekly that is also a leading investigative newspaper, earlier said that 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”.
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.
Emergency powers extended
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.
Other summer events in the French capital, including the popular open-air movie screenings at La Villette and a car-free day on the city's famed Champs-Elysees boulevard, have been cancelled due to a “lack of security guarantees”.
Officials are scrambling to reassure a jittery population after a string of deadly attacks claimed by jihadist outfits including the Islamic State (IS) group, which has singled out France as a prime target.
The IS group last week claimed Bouhlel as one of its "soldiers", though investigators say they have no proof yet that the driver, who was shot dead by police, had pledged allegiance to the group.
The Nice truck attack came just as France was preparing to lift the state of emergency in place since the November 13, 2015, shootings in Paris, prompting an immediate reversal of course.
Lawmakers in the National Assembly and Senate on Thursday passed a bill extending the state of emergency, which gives police extra powers to carry out searches and place people under house arrest, for another six months.
The bill, which was toughened up by the right-leaning Senate, bans gatherings where sufficient security cannot be provided and makes it easier to shut places of worship where preachers incite hate or violence.
It is the fourth time the security measures have been extended since IS group members killed 130 people in a wave of coordinated attacks on Paris restaurants, a concert hall and the national stadium last November.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)