AT LEAST 60 people have been killed in France after a truck ploughed into a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations in the southern city of Nice.
The city’s mayor said dozens had been killed in the apparent attack. Local media is reporting up to 60 fatalities.
A spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry said “it’s going to be a very high toll”.
The incident happened during a fireworks display for the national celebration when the huge truck rammed into the crowd celebrating on the French Riviera.
Bodies remain strewn on the streets and the scene has been described as “apocalyptic”.
A man who witnessed the attack told CNN he saw the driver accelerate and aim for people as the vehicle slammed the crowd.
The driver then emerged from the truck and opened fire on the crowd, another eyewitness said. French media is now reporting the gunman got back in the driver’s seat and travelled to another populated area before starting to shoot again.
Police reportedly opened fire on the truck, which local media said crushed revellers and sent people running for their lives. The truck’s driver was shot dead.
Witnesses have reported people being hit by debris flying around the scene, and videos have emerged on social media showing people fleeing in panic.
Images of streets strewn with bodies are flooding social media as authorities warn locals and tourists to stay indoors.
“The driver of a van appears to have killed dozens. Stay in your homes for now. More info to follow,” mayor Christian Estrosi wrote on Twitter.
Local authorities from the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture also urged people to remain indoors following what appeared to be a deliberate attack on crowds who had been watching the annual fireworks display from the famed Promenade des Anglais.
Witnesses also described hearing gunfire, but this was not immediately confirmed by the authorities.
There is speculation the fatal attack was an act of terrorism. Authorities are yet to comment on the situation and emergency crews remain on the scene.
Panic has broken out in Paris where a fire has broken out by the Eiffel Tower following the Nice attack.
The fire is not believed to be terror-related and is not being treated as an attack.
CNN reports French president Francois Hollande will return to Paris for crisis talks over the Nice attack.
The attack is the third in less than two years that has killed more than 100 people and left hundreds more wounded.
An attack on November 13 left 130 people dead. Some of the nine militants blew themselves up near the Stade de France stadium, others opened fire on downtown cafe terraces and a third group armed with guns and suicide vests killed 90 music fans at the Bataclan rock concert hall.
It followed an attack in January last year where jihadists attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket that left 17 dead.
Earlier this week, France’s most senior security chief predicted Islamic extremists would look to increase their capacity to kill by using booby-trapped cars and bombs.
Testimony by Patrick Calvar, who heads the internal intelligence agency DGSI, and other top security officials was made public Tuesday in a 300-page report by a parliamentary commission that examined French means to fight terrorism.
According to AP, the report revealed numerous intelligence lapses that paved the way for the attacks in January and November 2015 that together killed 147 people.
Calvar said in his May 24 testimony before the commission that he foresaw an evolution in how extremists carry out attacks in France, and presumably the West, notably that they will use techniques that can kill more people — and spare the attackers.
“I’m convinced they’ll go to booby-trapped vehicles and bombs, thus upping their power,” he said.
“We know very well they’re going to use this mode of operating,” the intelligence chief said.
“They’re going to end up sending commandos whose mission is to organise terrorist campaigns without necessarily going to the assault with death awaiting them,” he said.
He also raised the possibility of extremists using “dirty bombs” and the natural poison ricin, saying several groups had studied the toxin in the past.
The Armed Islamic Group, which rained terror on Algeria in the early 1990s, was looking to put it on car door handles to create a panic effect, Calvar said, and it was studied in northern Iraq and in the remote Pankisi Valley in Georgia, once a stronghold of Chechen militants.
Calvar did not elaborate on when this new approach to attacks could become an imminent threat to France or other Western targets. He noted before the commission that he cannot tell all.
Earlier on Thursday, President Hollande confirmed the state of emergency which France declared after last November’s deadly Paris attacks would come to an end on July 26.
According to AFP, President Hollande said the decree after the November 13 attacks would not be renewed because a law bolstering security in France was adopted in May.
“We had to prolong the state of emergency until we could be sure that the law gives us the means to counter the terrorist threat effectively,” he said in a traditional Bastille Day television interview.
The new law “will give us the tools which, while not comparable with the state of emergency, give us the means to keep tabs on certain individuals administratively,” he added.
“We can’t prolong the state of emergency forever. That would make no sense, it would mean that we were no longer a republic with laws which can apply in all circumstances,” he said, while acknowledging that the threat “remains there.”
Hollande declared the state of emergency on the evening of the November 13 attacks and it was extended three times by parliament, notably to include the euro 2016 football tournament and the Tour de France cycle race.