France orders Nice policing inquiry after Bastille Day attack

Police

Police

France’s government said on Thursday it was ordering an inquiry into security arrangements for the July 14 festivities in Nice, amid mounting anger at the failure to prevent a truck driver from ramming the crowd of revellers.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the national police inspectorate would lead the investigation, 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, before he was shot dead by police.

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 government in the southern Nice area, Christian Estrosi, accusing the 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.

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.

Lawmakers in the National Assembly and Senate on Thursday are expected to pass a bill extending a state of emergency, which gives police extra powers to carry out searches and place people under house arrest, for another six months.

It is the fourth time the security measures have been extended since IS group members struck Paris last November, killing 130 people in a wave of coordinated attacks on restaurants, a concert hall and the national stadium.