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France commemorates victims of 2016 terrorist attack in Nice

NICE, France -- Thousands of people gathered Friday in the Mediterranean city of Nice to remember the 86 victims killed a year ago when a terrorist drove through Bastille Day crowds on the city's famous seaside promenade.

Around 10:30 p.m. on July 14, 2016, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, swerved a 19-ton rental truck onto the sidewalk of the Promenade des Anglais and careened into crowds as they were leaving the annual fireworks display.

During a three-hour ceremony Friday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke, as did the city's mayor, Christian Estrosi. The names of those who died during the rampage were read out loud and posted on a board to form a heart.

"A truck hurtled into the crowd and tore France apart," said Pauline Murris, whose cousin died in the attack. "The wave of death was terrible, enough to silence its own echo. We will never find the words."

Dozens of dignitaries were present, including the two most recent former presidents, Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

The public event included honors for police officers and emergency medical workers as well as civilians who tried to stop the truck.

Some commentators and area figures have lamented that Nice's tragedy was given less national attention than the attacks in and around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, that killed 130 people and the attacks at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and other locations that killed 17 people in January of that year.

Although tourism has rebounded and people often repeat the mantra "life must go on," residents have struggled to get over the attack's brutality.

For families who lost sons or daughters, wives or grandparents, brothers or sisters and for many Nice natives -- even those who were not touched directly -- the scars go deep, as they do for the 450 people who were wounded in the attack.

Some of those who were injured attended the ceremony, where they leaned on canes, were pushed in wheelchairs or walked on their own but were still coping with the aftereffects of internal injuries.

For some, it is too painful to go back.

"I left the city, and I'm living in the Canary Islands now," said Emilie Bromley, who was on the promenade when the attack occurred.

"Honestly, I feel weird about it," Bromley said. "In the Canary Islands it is a regular day, but for me it is not. My body is still on alert each time that I'm hearing the noise of fireworks. I will prefer to not celebrate this year."

For Samih Abid, a Nice native and a lawyer who was not far from the promenade on the night of the attack, there is a sense that little has changed and that an opportunity has been missed for bringing together the city's often deeply divided Muslim and non-Muslim populations.

"The violence was blind and stupid, but one-third of the victims were Muslims or from Muslim culture," he said. "So one is both a victim and one is still stigmatized because it was a Tunisian of Muslim origins who did this." He skipped Friday's ceremony, instead taking his family outside the city.

Many Nice residents and victims' associations contend that national and area authorities failed to provide adequate security for last year's Bastille Day celebration and that they missed glaring signs -- caught on Nice's extensive video surveillance network -- that Lahouaiej Bouhlel had on several occasions been scouting out the promenade.

Others have asserted that the security for the European championship soccer tournament held in Nice a few weeks earlier had better security than the Bastille Day celebration. An investigation into potential lapses was opened in April after several families filed a lawsuit, but no parliamentary investigative committee has been created to look into the attack, in contrast to the response to the November 2015 Paris attacks.

During the ceremony, Macron acknowledged the anger.

"This rage, I know, many of you still carry it in the pit of your stomach," he said. "Everything will be done in order for the republic, the state and public authorities to regain your trust."

Information for this article was contributed by Megan Specia of The New York Times.

A Section on 07/16/2017

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