Shadow over Nice, as locals, tourists try to make sense of attacks

Life goes on, but the mood is somber along the stretch of road where dozens were killed and injured by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel during Bastille Day festivities.

Laurent Cipriani/AP
People stroll on the Promenade des Anglais with the French flag at half mast, near the scene of a truck attack in Nice, southern France, Saturday.

The July sun beats down on the Promenade des Anglais, or "The English promenade," a coastal road almost 4-1/2 miles long stretching along the seafront in the city of Nice. Couples and families stroll, cyclists whizz past and, on the beach, sun-seekers eagerly soak up the rays. It’s a Mediterranean summer’s day like any other – almost.

Dotted along the promenade are floral tributes, and the flags are flying at half-staff.

Just two days ago, on the French national holiday of Bastille Day, 84 people were killed when Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a massive truck along the promenade. He zigzagged to hit as many people as possible, until police stopped him with deadly force.

In addition to the dead, Bouhlel's rampage left some others 200 injured, 25 of them currently on life-support and a further 25 in critical condition. 

This chic resort city, near the borders with Italy and the city-state of Monaco, is in deep shock – and all of France, which suffered a spate of terror attacks over the past 18 months, is again asking why this happened.

Sivan Kobi, who is on vacation from Los Angeles with her husband, Ari, was in Cannes, across the bay, watching the fireworks when she heard about the attack.

“We’re devastated. We’re so sad for the people,” she says. “On such a special day, for one person to traumatize a whole city.”

Ms. Kobi said that it did worry her, but she wouldn’t let it stop her visiting. “It’s everywhere you go in the world. My daughter is in Paris, studying, on an exchange from UCLA,” she says.

On Saturday, the self-declared Islamic State announced it was responsible for Bouhlel’s rampage, but it not yet clear if there is any truth in this claim. Bouhlel was known to police as a petty criminal rather than a terror suspect. Some have suggested Bouhlel had mental problems and several people have come forward to say that he was not religious.

France’s government is not dismissing the possibility, however, with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve telling reporters that Bouhlel “seems to have become radicalized very quickly.”

Jihadist or not, the shock is real.

Life does go on in Nice, with cafe terraces still attracting customers. But the closer you get to the promenade, the more somber the mood.

The local daily newspaper, Nice Matin, has dedicated almost its entire edition to the tragedy. All material other than a page of sports results and some classified advertisements was replaced by not only the story of the meaning of the attack, but the deeply personal human tragedies of the individual lives lost.

Many pedestrians refuse to talk about the attack. Some foreign tourists decline the invitation but, in general, it is French citizens who are most reticent.

One French couple, who gave their names as Mr. and Mrs. Ferrari, were walking along the promenade clutching flowers to add to the floral tribute in an act of mourning and solidarity. 

“We are Nicois [residents of Nice],” says Mr. Ferrari. 

The Ferraris did not know anyone who was killed, but felt the need to do something to commemorate the dead.

“We are angry, sad, horrified, sad…” says Mrs. Ferrari, switching between French and English.

Mr. Ferrari expressed concern that not enough is being done to tackle extremism in France. “Very much more is needed. There is no sense that the menace is really understood [by the authorities]. They didn’t comprehend."

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