ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Horror has struck France again. Those are the words of French President Francois Hollande as he speaks right now in Paris about the attacks earlier tonight in Nice in the south of France. A crowd of people had gathered to watch a fireworks show for Bastille Day when a large, white truck came barreling down the promenade. Local authorities say the truck was packed with explosives. At least 77 people in Nice are dead and many others wounded. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is with us again. Hi, Dina.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: What's the latest you can tell us about what authorities know about this attack?
TEMPLE-RASTON: I don't think they're releasing very much right now as they're trying to put together what is an extremely long and large crime scene. The truck is thought to have gone somewhere between a mile or 2 kilometers down the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and hitting people along the way.
I think one thing we do know from our sources is that in addition to the truck which was the killing vehicle, there were guns and grenades or explosives of some kind inside the truck, which suggests that it was supposed to be some sort of different kind, perhaps even more deadly attack. And we're still trying to find details on that.
SHAPIRO: It is nearly 4 a.m. in France right now. President Francois Hollande is speaking at this moment wearing a black suit and a black tie, looking very much like a man in mourning. Though he's speaking in French, let's listen to just a little bit of what he's saying right now.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Speaking French).
SHAPIRO: "Taking all the necessary steps in cities and villages across France," he's saying. Dina...
TEMPLE-RASTON: "And we'll do whatever it takes," is what he said as well.
SHAPIRO: Now, France had been in a state of emergency because of recent terror attacks. And Hollande had said that he was prepared to lift that state of emergency until this happened.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Until this happened - now, France had been - according to French authorities that I had been speaking to over the last couple of months, France was girding itself for another attack. It didn't think necessarily that it would come during the Euro soccer matches. They felt that their security there was too tight for someone to try to pierce that and actually cause an attack.
But they did think something might happen on a soft target this summer sort of at the height of the vacation season. And technically Bastille Day is seen in France as sort of the first day of summer. School is let out, et cetera. And that's what appears to have happened here.
SHAPIRO: You know, Secretary of State John Kerry put out a statement tonight saying that this is an attack on a day that celebrates liberty, equality and fraternity, taking obviously that famous French motto. It is hard not to see this as a symbolic attack in addition to the incredible loss of life.
TEMPLE-RASTON: A symbolic attack because of the day they chose. But also we know that this week ISIS came out - and no one has taken responsibility for this attack, but we do know that this week ISIS came out and said Omar the Chechen, who was their minister of war - they announced that he had actually been killed by an airstrike. And we thought - U.S. authorities thought that had happened back in march - so sort of interesting that they chose this particular time to say that Omar was dead. And there's been some back and forth on Twitter from so-called ISIS followers who say this attack was revenge for Omar the Chechen.
SHAPIRO: Dina, there have been conflicting reports as the evening unfolded about whether there was an exchange of gunfire. We do know there was a photograph showing the truck with many bullet holes in the windshield. Is there anything you can tell us about how this may have unfolded?
TEMPLE-RASTON: We've heard various reports. One was that the people came out shooting before they drove the truck through the crowd. There are also...
SHAPIRO: Now, you're saying people and they. We've also heard conflicting reports about whether there was one or more than one person involved.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's exactly - sorry, I should be more clear that it is unclear whether there was simply a driver, if there's somebody who is on the run. But I will say that given that there are multiple weapons involved and we know that there are weapons and explosives in the truck, it certainly suggests just from common sense that at least at some point during this attack, more than one person was involved.
SHAPIRO: Dina, stay with us. We have Phil Ewing, our national security editor here in the studio. And Phil, you've been listening to what French President Francois Hollande had to say just now. Give us the highlights.
PHIL EWING, BYLINE: That's right. He said France is afflicted, but it is strong, and it will always be stronger than these fanatics, as he called them. He also announced a few security measures that his government is going to take right away. One of them is to maintain the so-called state of emergency that was supposed to have expired there later this month. That's going to remain in effect for the next several months. He said that he's going to deploy troops, gendarmes and soldiers around the country and in fact to call up operational reserves so that there are more personnel available for this kind of heavy security presence in France that we've seen since the November attacks.
And he called for resolve. He said the - France and the French people should continue the fight against terrorism, as he called it, and he vowed that France will continue its efforts as a part of this international coalition against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We should note he did not address responsibility or claims or responsibility, and we did not learn much from the comments that I heard about the details you were just discussing with Dina in terms of the number of people involved and a specific - you know, specific things like that.
SHAPIRO: It's an interesting choice of words to say that France is afflicted but it is strong because with the number of attacks in the last few years, it does seem that France is perhaps not uniquely afflicted but indeed afflicted.
EWING: That's right. And he definitely picked up a theme that we heard him sound after the Paris attacks. At that time he said France is at war. He made clear that he viewed that attack, he views this continuation - in his view as a continuation of that theme. He also vowed that he, after a meeting with top ministers tomorrow, will visit Nice to pay his respects to the sight of this attack. And so that's something that we'll watch for when the sun comes up there.
SHAPIRO: Of course we don't want to draw a cause-and-effect conclusion, but can you talk about the role that France has played in some of these global fights against ISIS and other countries that are deemed to support terrorism?
EWING: Well, French forces have been a part of that for years. The French set an aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to be - to take part in the airstrikes that the U.S., other European powers and the local Middle-Eastern countries have been carrying out against ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq. Hollande indicated that will continue if not increase going forward.
The challenge of solving this problem is, you can't just strike these terror groups from the air. You have to have forces on the ground, reclaim the territory they've taken - the city of Mosul in Iraq, the city of Raqqah in Northern Syria. The U.S. and Russia and other powers are trying to do that, but that progress has been slow. And today there is no ground force on the ground in the Middle East that is strong enough to definitively defeat ISIS in either place.
SHAPIRO: Now, we heard from Eleanor Beardsley in Paris earlier tonight that authorities had an identity card from a French-Tunisian citizen. Dina, you've reported extensively on French citizens who have gone to other countries, received training and then returned to France.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, there have been about 1,200 French citizens who have gone to Syria and Iraq to either fight with ISIS or associated groups there, and about 250 of them have come back. In fact, one of the countries that has provided the most recruits, as it turns out, to ISIS per capita is Tunisia. It is one of the countries that has the biggest ISIS problem. And for the most part, the people who've left France to join ISIS have been Moroccans. But it's not a surprised that this might be a French-Tunisian as well.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston and Phil Ewing. And for us here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, this concludes our coverage of the attacks in Nice but much more to come on NPR News, including on MORNING EDITION tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.