Attack in Nice puts French government under pressure over security measures | News | DW | 18.07.2016
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Attack in Nice puts French government under pressure over security measures

As church bells tolled across France, a minute of silence was held for victims of the attack in Nice. The government has come under pressure for its security operations as thousands of reservists are to be mobilized.

A minute's silence was held in Nice on Monday as thousands of people gathered to pay their respects to the 84 people who died in last week's terror attack.

A cannon fired twice to mark the start of the minute and there was spontaneous applause for several seconds for members of the fire brigade and rescue services as they arrived. Afterwards the national anthem, La Marseillaise, and the unofficial anthem of the city of Nice, Nissa la Bella, were sung by the crowd.

Officials in Nice, which included Prime Minister Manuel Valls, were greeted with whistles and jeers from the crowd, along with some shouted insults accusing them of incompetence and politicking after the attack. There are 59 victims still hospitalized, 29 of them in intensive care.

President Francois Hollande gathered with state and military officials in a courtyard in the Elysee Palace presidential building in Paris to mark the minute of silence. Earlier, Hollande had presided over his government's third defense and security council meeting to be held since the truck attack.

Speaking after Monday morning's meeting in central Paris, the country's interior and defense ministers said the country had never before faced a threat of this kind, referring to the terror attacks in Paris last year as well as the attack in Nice on Bastille Day.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve listed a series of laws and extra police forces created under Hollande's presidency "to face a threat that France was not prepared for" when he came to power in 2012.

Cazeneuve outlined the measures which have been taken, such as operation "Sentinelle" which has mobilized 10,000 troops throughout France. Many of them are reported to have become increasingly fatigued over the months of the operation. Several thousand reservists aged 18-30 are to be recruited via social media to add to security over the summer to protect vulnerable locations in France.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said operations would continue in liaison with the Interior Ministry to "eliminate this cancer that is Daesh," using the alternative name for the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group.

Cazeneuve also called for citizens to "tell the truth" as he said that vulnerable people in France who were not known to the intelligence services were being lured into terror organizations. He said that the president had called for people to mourn together and unite as a country.

Police in Nice following the attack

Police in Nice following the attack

Domestic politics

Over the weekend, the Hollande government - and particularly Cazeneuve - had come under fire from politicians including former president and leader of the Republicains opposition group, Nicolas Sarkozy. Speaking on national TV on Sunday Sarkozy said that "everything that should have been done the past 18 months was not done."

"We are at war, outright war," Sarkozy said. "So I will use strong words: it will be us or them."

Head of the extreme-right National Front (FN) party Marine Le Pen called for Cazeneuve to resign after she cited "serious deficiencies" in the protection of French citizens. "Anywhere else in the world a minister with such a terrible record - 250 deaths in 18 months - would have resigned a long time ago," she said at the weekend.

On Monday, Cazeneuve described the politicians as "shameful," saying "certain members of the political class have not respected the mourning period."

Last week, a French parliamentary inquiry criticized numerous failings by the intelligence services following the assaults in Paris in January and November last year.

Flower tributes to Nice victims

Flower tributes to Nice victims

'Enough of speeches'

There have been written messages left at the site of the attack in Nice which mirrored security concerns: "Enough with the speeches" and "Sick of carnage in our streets." On Monday, florists laid flowers along the two-kilometer length of the promenade ahead of the minute's silence at mid day.

Only 52 of the victims have been officially identified as of Monday as authorities take measures to avoid repeating errors of mis-identification which followed the November Paris attacks. At least 10 children were among the dead, as well as tourists from Germany, Ukraine, Switzerland and ten Russians linked to the St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral which is close to the Promenade des Anglais where the attack took place.

Investigation ongoing

The investigation into the attack in Nice has continued, as the motives and organization of the killer remain unclear. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian resident in Nice was killed at the wheel of the truck after zig-zagging through the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais on Thursday night. Terror group "Islamic State" (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attack but investigators have yet to find any link.

Six people were in custody on Monday, including a 38-year-old Albanian suspected of providing Lahouaiej-Bouhlel with a pistol he used to fire at police during the attack.

Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had used the rented truck to stake out the Nice seafront for two consecutive days, at some point taking a photo of himself, before driving the 19-ton truck through barriers at speed. He is reported to have sent a text message just before the attack in which he expressed "satisfaction at having obtained a 7.65-millimeter pistol" and discussed the supply of other weapons.

jm/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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