President Francois Hollande invoked the spirit of national unity on Saturday as he led tributes to 86 people killed in a jihadist truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day. Saturday’s ceremonies in the Riviera resort city had been postponed until a day after the three-month anniversary because of storms in the region.
“What was attacked on July 14 was national unity,” Hollande told hundreds of victims’ relatives and officials invited to the ceremony.
“It is the monstrous aim of the terrorists, to attack some in order to terrify others, to unleash violence in order to sow division. Well, I tell you, no, this evil enterprise will fail,” he said.
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“In some families, three generations were swept away,” Hollande said, as he described “the entire nation’s compassion and solidarity” for mourning relatives.
The July 14 attack saw a 31-year-old Tunisian extremist ram a 19-tonne truck into a crowd of 30,000 holiday revellers on the Promenade des Anglais seafront before police shot him dead.
More than 400 people were injured, some grievously. The Islamic State (IS) group said the driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was one of its followers.
The massacre marked a peak of brutality in a string of jihadist attacks in France over the past two years that have ramped up security fears while stoking anti-immigrant sentiment ahead of presidential elections in 2017.
Hollande’s Socialist government came under fire for alleged security lapses ahead of the attack in Nice, a bastion of the rightwing opposition.
Several politicians from the right attended the ceremony including former president Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppe, both candidates in the Republicans party’s presidential primary next month, and far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen.
Many families are still struggling to deal with their grief. “Nice and all of France weeps for the 86 victims. Our sadness is unending,” said Cindy Pellegrini, a relative of the victims, who read a text in their memory at the start of the one-hour ceremony.
And some survivors of the attack are still trying to put their lives back together.
Vincent Delhommel Desmarest, who runs a restaurant on the Promenade des Anglais, is still haunted by the bloodbath and has yet to return to work.
“You don’t sleep at night. I saw the whole thing, the lorry bearing down, the mutilated, decapitated bodies, the guts,” said Desmarest, leader of a victims’ group.