NICE, France — Red roses were gently placed over blood stains on the asphalt, as were notes of solidarity and, in some cases, gratitude for a life saved. On the sidewalk, couples cried and held each other. A woman wore a T-shirt that read: “Nice is not the same.”
On Saturday, French authorities partially reopened the storied Promenade des Anglais, the seaside boulevard on which a Tunisian-born resident of France barreled a truck into crowds gathered for a Bastille Day fireworks display, killing 84 and wounding more than 200, including children. The attack, claimed by the Islamic State on Saturday, elicited strong emotions reminiscent of the aftermath of the two major terrorist attacks on France last year.
Yet this time, the mood is decidedly different. The outpouring of solidarity is far less than what followed the January 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the November 2015 assaults in Paris. In its place is a fear that a new era of terrorism has dawned, where a truck is as much a weapon of mass devastation as guns and bombs.
“We are afraid. We don’t feel safe,” said Louisa Rechidova, who fled the Chechen war 15 years with her family. “In Chechnya, we knew who the enemy was. Here, we don’t know who the enemy is.”
France’s renowned unity — its national motto is “liberty, equality, fraternity” — has given way to political finger-pointing and frustration at the government’s apparent inability to effectively combat terrorism. At a rally on Friday at the Place de la Republique, a famed square in Paris, only about 200 mourners turned up to remember the victims of the Nice attack, according to French media reports.
After the January 2015 attacks at Charlie Hebdo and other nearby sites, in which Islamist militants killed 17 people, about 3 million people took part in unity marches across France, including more than 40 world leaders, who linked their arms in a show of solidarity.
“It’s the third time in France,” said Rudy Salles, Nice’s deputy mayor and an opponent of President François Holland’s Socialist Party. “People are exhausted, are tired. And they are angry. They don’t want to go on like this.”
There’s also an unsettling recognition that terrorism is possibly becoming the new normal in their lives, something they will never be able to fully eradicate, at least as long as France remains a key player in the West’s wars against Islamist extremism.
“It can happen to everybody, and we can’t do anything,” said Marie Villani, who was carrying roses to place over the blood stains on the Promenade des Anglais. “It can happen another time. The only thing we can do is continue our lives and pray.”
On Saturday morning, a senior government official acknowledged the extent to which the truck attack has altered the mind-set of the French people.
“The trauma created by the way this really violent crime was committed has deeply shocked the French,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. “And, at the same time, it shows us the extreme difficulty of the anti-terrorism fight.”
By Saturday evening, in apparent concern over the simmering national disunity, officials had launched attempts to build more popular solidarity and confidence in their efforts to combat terrorism.
Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll tweeted that Hollande had reminded officials at a ministerial meeting of the “importance of the unity of the country,” adding that “this is the greatness of France.” Hours later, Cazeneuve called upon “all patriotic citizens” to join a special reservist force of as many as 12,000 to bolster security.
The government also called for a minute of silence across the country on Monday to commemorate the victims of the Nice attack.
This time, though, bringing people together could prove challenging. In Nice, there is palpable anger at the government’s inability to stop attacks, even though its critics have not offered viable solutions.
“Before we would be in shock when something like this happened, like the previous attacks,” said François, a taxi driver who gave only his first name. “But now we all know that these things could, might and will happen again. Also politicians know this. By not doing anything, they are accomplices in what happened.”
On the Promenade Des Anglais, some mourners said that in the absence of any guaranteed security, their best response is to live their lives as normally as possible. That is why local officials decided to partially open up the walkway just two days after the attack.
“We want to show them that nothing will stop us from living,” Salles said. “We are not going to change our way of life.”
On Saturday, restaurants were full. Weddings were taking place. The beaches were packed. Thousands walked the Promenade, as if it was just another day.
“We are facing a new type of hate, and we are adapting to this,” said Raphaël Enthoven, a philosopher. “We are getting used to fear in a way.”
Elie Petit and Annabell Van den Berghe contributed to this report.