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Video allegedly shows gunfire during attack
01:23 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A truck plows through a crowd in Nice, killing more than 80 people

French President describes it as a terrorist attack

CNN  — 

First, it was a magazine office and a kosher food market. Then a concert venue, football stadium and terrace restaurants. Now it’s the seaside city of Nice.

Since the beginning of last year, terrorists have targeted France in a series of shootings and bombings mostly aimed at social scenes, including a November massacre that killed at least 130 people.

Before a truck rammed through a crowd in the beach city of Nice on Thursday night, leaving more than 80 people dead, previous attacks shared one connection: the claims of responsibility by Islamist extremists.

While it’s unclear who was behind the attack in Nice, it occurred on a French national holiday, Bastille Day, largely considered France’s Independence Day.

It struck at the heart of a city considered a tourist hotspot for its beautiful beaches and vibrant crowds.

And like previous attacks, it left a stunned nation reeling from yet another mass killing and its people asking: Why France again?

Attack in Nice

The latest, horrifying attack on French soil was carried out by a man driving a truck in Nice on Thursday.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were out in the streets, celebrating Bastille Day with fireworks and a beachfront concert.

After the last firework fizzled, an apparent lone driver in a large white truck first opened fire into the crowd before plowing through horrified tourists and residents along one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

Although the road was cordoned off, the man drove for more than a mile along the crowded waterfront before police shot him.

The dead included several children.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

November attacks

Not too long before the attacks in Nice, France was in mourning and under a state of emergency after terrorists targeted a crowded concert hall, a football stadium and terrace restaurants in Paris on November 13.

The attackers, armed with assault rifles and explosives, targeted six locations across the city.

In the deadliest of the incidents, three attackers raided the Bataclan concert venue and opened fire during a performance by the U.S. band Eagles of Death Metal. They fired on people as they lay on the floor, writhing in pain from gunshot wounds.

By the time French police stormed the building, at least 89 people were dead.

Another attacker targeted a soccer stadium in a suburb north of Paris, where French President François Hollande was watching France play Germany – but he was safely evacuated.

Other terrorists stormed four restaurants in Paris, firing assault weapons on people sitting on the terraces, eating and drinking.

In all, at least 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

French officials said the ringleader was a Belgian of Moroccan descent who lived in Brussels. He was killed in a police raid in a Paris suburb three days after the attacks.

ISIS claimed responsibility.

Magazine office attack

The three days of terror started with a massacre at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015 – followed by an intensive hunt for the attackers.

On the first day, gunmen raided the magazine’s office in Paris, killing 12 people. They said they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed after the magazine irked some with its past caricatures of him.

The next day, a French policewoman was gunned down in a Paris suburb.

On the third and final day, terrorists seized a Jewish grocery store, killing four hostages.

French officials said the attackers were three French-born citizens of Algerian descent, and a French-born citizen of Senegalese descent.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack

Failed attempts

Some attackers have tried and failed – like an attempted mass shooting aboard the Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015.

Three Americans, a UK citizen and a French national helped thwart the shooting and subdue the gunman. No one was killed.

In January 2016 police shot dead a man armed with a knife who tried to enter a Paris police station on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo magazine attacks. A paper image of the ISIS flag was found on his body, Paris prosecutors said.

Why France?

CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank​ said no nation in the West faces as many terror threats as France.

“They are absolutely exhausted after a year and a half of intense efforts to try and protect this country,” he said. “The police and army have been at maximum deployment and Nice is one of the cities that was hosting some of the big games of the Euro 2016, so it was already on high alert.”

While the identity of the Nice attacker is unknown, experts say previous major terror attacks have been carried out by terrorists from disenfranchised communities.

“You have a very large disaffected North African community. They are French citizens now … but they’ve been excluded from French society,” Robert Baer, a former CIA operative, told CNN’s Don Lemon Thursday night.

“I went to school in France … I worked there and they are really totally excluded,” Baer added.

“And it keeps getting worse since the attacks in Paris because (police) are using profiling and they are stopping people who look like Arabs on trains and buses, checking their IDs, which we don’t even do in this country. The French have been very aggressive … radicalization of people of North African origin is actually picking up rather than lessening.”

‘Confined neighborhoods’

Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director who served on the executive board of Interpol, said homegrown terrorism is a major concern in Europe.

“We have third-generation immigrants that came there from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia … and even when their children are born in France and their children’s children are born in France, they don’t consider themselves French,” he said.

“These immigrant populations stay in confined neighborhoods and only assimilate with each other and aren’t accepted into the general population.”

Cruickshank said Nice was probably targeted because Paris has intensified its security and the attacker zeroed in on unexpected targets.

“The problem is, you can’t get inside the heads of these terrorists to know precisely where they’re going to be targeting people next,” he said. “You can’t predict unless you’re inside the planning of those attacks.”

Christophe Premat, a French politician who was with his family in Nice and was caught up in the immediate aftermath of the attack, said it was unhelpful to blame immigration for the violence.

Instead, he said, there was pressing need to target ISIS militants fueling the hatred. No group has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack, and no one has officially implicated ISIS in it.

“It has nothing to do with migration,” he told CNN. “Those kind of theories – we don’t need them today.”

“The reality is that we have a threat, we have a war going on in Syria. We need to eradicate this movement because it will cause many more (attacks) in the future.

“We need to be together and we need to stand up together in order to fight this attack.”

CNN’s Bianca Britton contributed to this report