A driver of a lorry (truck) deliberately hit people while celebrating Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, killing at least 84, including many children

NICE, (France) — An attacker killed at least 84 people by driving a truck at high speed into crowds watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice late on Thursday.

Many children were among the death toll in the Riviera city following a “cowardly and barbaric” atrocity.

Bastille Day celebrations were transformed into scenes of chaos and carnage after the large white truck careered down the packed promenade.

As hundreds remained in hospital, including 18 in intensive care, anti-terrorist judges opened an investigation into ‘mass murder’.

The attacker, identified by a police as a 31-year-old Tunisian-born Frenchman, also opened fire before police shot him dead. He had been known to the police for common crimes but not to the intelligence services, the source said.

“He was known to the police for violence, and using weapons, but had no direct links with terrorism,” said an investigating source. “His identity car was found in the lorry. He had French and Tunisian nationality.”

A search of the vehicle uncovered a pistol, a larger gun, and a number of fake weapons and grenades.

The attack took place during the fireworks, according to French media, at about 11 pm local time.

Witnesses described a horrific scene, with bodies strewn along the roadway.

“People went down like ninepins,” Jacques, who runs Le Queenie restaurant on the seafront, told the France Info radio station.

“It’s a scene of horror,” Eric Ciotti, a local member of parliament, told the station, saying the truck “mowed down several hundred people”.

At least 84 killed in 'monstrous' terror attack on holiday crowd in Nice, France

Shocking images, many of which are too distressing to show, revealed the carnage and the trail of destruction the truck driver left behind.

In a pre-dawn address to the nation, French President Francois Hollande said “France is filled with sadness by this new tragedy”. Hollande said he had no doubt  the attack was an act of “terrorism”, calling it an assault on liberty by fanatics who despised human rights.

Hollande said a state of emergency implemented after the November terror attacks in Paris and due to end on July 26 will be extended by another three months.  He said the country’s borders were being tightened, as he vowed that France would show “real force and military action in Syria and Iraq”.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted: “The city of Nice has been hit by terrorism on the day of our national holiday. Immense pain, the country is in mourning. The French will face it.”

The United Nations condemned what it termed a “barbaric and cowardly” terror attack in Nice.

At least 84 killed in 'monstrous' terror attack on holiday crowd in Nice, France