07.15.16

LA reacts to France attack: 'The paradise it was — it's finished' (KPCC)

At least 84 people are dead in Nice, France, including at least two Americans, after a truck plowed through crowds at a Bastille Day celebration. French authorities are investigating the incident as a possible terrorist attack.

Law enforcement sources told NPR that the driver of the truck has been identified as 31-year-old Mohamed Bouhlel, a French-Tunisian man. It's not clear yet if he had any ties to terrorist organizations.

The Los Angeles Police Department said there have been no specific threats to the city, and it issued a statement expressing condolences to the victims of the attacks.

Schiff urges caution, not fear

Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank, who serves as ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, told KPCC that initial reports suggest that Bouhlel may not have had direct terrorist ties. 

"There are public reports out of France that this is someone in the midst of a divorce or [who] just lost their job," Schiff said. "It might have been somebody who was inspired by ISIS propaganda to attack this way, but nonetheless there was a strong contributing factor in his life disintegrating. So a lot we don't know at this point, except just the terrible and overwhelming death toll."

Schiff said that while Americans with vacation plans may feel concerned about international travel, he also did not want to see people become so insulated they don’t leave the country. He advised travelers to check the U.S. State Department's travel advisories and to be aware of their surroundings.

3 UC Berkeley students injured, 1 missing

Three University of California, Berkeley students studying abroad were among those injured in the Nice attacks on Thursday night, and another has not been accounted for, according to a news release from the school. The student who has not yet been found was identified as Nicolas Leslie, 20, originally from Del Mar, California.

There were 85 UC Berkeley students attending a nearby study abroad program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Europe, according to the release. The school was working with students in France, officials, Leslie's family and others to locate the missing student.

Two of the injured students suffered broken legs and were being treated in a hospital, with the third suffering a broken foot, according to the release.

The study abroad program will be temporarily suspended as part of three days of mourning in France, but it is expected to then continue until its scheduled end on July 24. Three students have taken the school up on an offer to leave the program early.

UC Berkeley noted in its release that the Nice attack follows terrorist attacks in other countries that have impacted its campus community, including sophomore Tarishi Jain being among 20 hostages killed by Islamic militants in Bangladesh on July 1.

L.A.-Nice perspectives

“People in the neighborhood have basically been saying, ‘Were you there?’ and others have said, ‘Yes, I was there,’ and then the conversation sort of stops," Alison Bracker, a Nice resident who grew up in Los Angeles, told KPCC's Take Two "They’re very, very grateful to be alive, and hopefully all of their loved ones are still alive. That’s been the priority for everybody. Everybody’s in shock but grateful to be alive.” 

Bracker said she left the seafront Bastille Day celebration just minutes before it became the scene of the tragic attack. 

“People were delighted to be there," she said. "It was a fantastic fireworks show. Nice puts on a fantastic show from across the bay that you can see for miles around, and at the end of it everyone was applauding, and that was when I turned to cross the street and start walking home. I’m less than a five-minute walk from the seafront, and by the time I got home I heard the sirens and started getting messages through my phone.

"I could have easily been there with friends, and be standing there chatting. It’s just one of those things that you can’t quite process, to be honest with you."

Robert Baudot, a Paris native now living in Los Angeles, told KPCC he thinks the attacks in France  have placed the country in a permanent state of danger, and that the French government has been too lax in its fight against terrorism.

"We don't have another choice than to have an emergency situation," Baudot said. "It's finished. The nice paradise that it was — it's finished."

Like Baudot, Samuel Loy, executive director of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, told Take Two that people in France think the nation's officials are not responding adequately to terrorism threats.

“The most frustrating feeling is the fact that this is not something that is being taken care of — that’s what most people feel like, at least," Loy said. "There’s a lot of talk about getting involved in Syria or Iraq or whatever, but this doesn’t seem to be helping the situation. It doesn’t look like this [latest attack] will be the last one.” 

At Nicole's Gourmet Market and Café in South Pasadena, Nicole Grandjean and her staff spent Friday morning prepping food and setting up tables for a Bastille Day celebration, but their minds were thousands of miles away.

"Yeah, we are going forward because everything was booked," Grandjean said. "The musician was booked two months ago. It's hard to cancel everything. People were expecting us to do something. We had advertised it. So we will go forward with the event — and celebrate and think about the ones who are no longer with us, that's all."

Grandjean is an immigrant from central France. Although she has no family in Nice, her son and his wife were vacationing there a few days ago.

Patrick Simon, a professor at the National Demographic Institute in Paris, where he specializes in sociology and race relations in France, told KPCC's AirTalk that the perpetrators of the recent attacks in France shared a common trait.

“The profile of the terrorists who have done the attacks in these last events are related to an experience of social exclusion and discrimination," Simon said. "There is a link between [that and terrorism]. But the number of people who are exposed to this type of experience is pretty high, and only a very small minority of them are thinking or acting the way the terrorists are doing."

Witness: 'Sheer terror in blink of an eye'

NPR shared the accounts of several witnesses, including this one who described the sudden panic on Thursday night:

At a beachside restaurant in Nice, Eric Drattell and his wife were relaxing after a fireworks show when a white truck began speeding down the promenade, mowing people down.

"You go from having an absolutely marvelous time to sheer terror in a blink of an eye, literally," he says. "It was a spectacular fireworks show. And then all of a sudden this happens and people are screaming."

Some people jumped off the promenade seeking safety, he says. "My wife's comment to me later ... she said it was like a zombie attack. People were literally diving for their lives," Drattell says. "There were bodies and blood everywhere."