WASHINGTON/MOSCOW - World leaders united in horror and pledged their determination to fight terrorism on Friday after a truck attack on a Bastille Day crowd in the French Riviera city of Nice killed 84 people.

Leaders of Asia and Europe condemned international terrorism at a summit in Mongolia Friday, as an attack in Nice drew attention away from Beijing’s rejection of a tribunal ruling dismissing its extensive South China Sea claims. The biennial Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, is supposed to be a venue for increasing cooperation across the Eurasian region and exploring ways to strengthen global agreements governing everything from trade to civil aviation.

Counter-terrorism efforts were already due to be discussed, but the issue was given renewed urgency by the carnage in Nice, where a truck ploughed into Bastille Day revellers, killing at least 84 in what President Francois Hollande called a “terrorist” attack.

Leaders and representatives of governments from Ireland to Indonesia held a minute’s silence for the victims at the opening of the summit in Ulan Bator.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday condemned the Bastille Day attack in the French city of Nice, calling for intensified efforts to confront terrorism and violent extremism.

Ban “stands firmly behind the French government and people as they confront this threat and stresses the need to intensify regional and international efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism,” a UN statement said.

Police sources said the truck was driven by a 31-year Tunisian-born Frenchman known to authorities for petty crime but not radicalism, who was eventually shot dead after an exchange of gunfire with police.  Dozens more people were injured. The dead included foreign tourists and students.

European Council President Donald Tusk, speaking in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, captured the global shock when he spoke of the “tragic paradox that the subject of #NiceAttack was the people celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on the sidelines of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Mongolia: “All of us who have come together at the ASEM summit are united in our feeling of disbelief at the attack of mass murder in Nice.”

New British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose country has just upset Paris and other European capitals by voting to leave the European Union, said Britain stood “shoulder to shoulder” with France.

Putin, whose relations with the West have been strained over Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria, went on Russian television to convey his condolences to Hollande after apparently being unable to reach him by telephone.

“Dear Francois, Russia knows what terror is and the threats that it creates for all of us. Our people have more than once encountered similar tragedies and is deeply affected by the incident, sympathises with the French people, and feels solidarity with them,” he said, adding that Russian citizens were among the victims in Nice.  In the Middle East, many messages of sympathy and condemnation were laced with domestic agendas.

Islam’s leading centre of learning, AL-AZHAR, said the “vile terrorist attack” contradicted Islam and called for “uniting efforts to defeat terrorism and rid the world of its evil,” while the French Council Of The Muslim Faith (CFCM) said it “utterly condemned” the bloodshed.

Prominent Egyptian Muslim cleric Shawki Allam condemned the assailant as an “extremist.”

“People who commit such ugly crimes are corrupt of the earth, and follow in the footsteps of Satan... and are cursed in this life and in the hereafter.”

The six Gulf Arab states issued a joint statement saying that they “strongly” condemned the “terrorist” act in Nice.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council states stand in solidarity with the French republic following this cowardly criminal incident whose perpetrators have been stripped of all moral and human values,” the bloc’s secretary general, Abdullatif al-Zayani, said.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia issued its own statement condemning the “heinous terrorist” act, adding that it stands in “solidarity” with France and will “cooperate with it in confronting terrorist acts in all their forms.” United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: “This heinous terrorist crime makes it imperative for all to work decisively and without hesitation to counter terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi condemned “in the strongest terms the vile terrorist attack,” his office said. Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit denounced the “craven terrorist attack,” his spokesman said.

Iran called the attack a “criminal terrorist incident.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, whose country was hit just days ago by a coordinated gun and bomb attack on Istanbul airport by suspected Islamic State militants, said Turks could understand what France and the French people were going through.

In an apparent swipe at EU countries that disapprove of Ankara’s crackdown on Kurdish separatist fighters, Erdogan said: “We expect those who act inconsistently in the face of terror to draw necessary lessons from the most recent attack in France.”

The European Union is trying to persuade Ankara to narrow the scope of its sweeping anti-terror laws as one of the conditions for granting visa-free travel to Turks. Brussels wants to avoid journalists, academics and opposition politicians being prosecuted for expressing peaceful opinions on the Kurdish issue.

Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain and Belgium, all of which are neighbours of France, held separate meetings to review their own security after the Nice attack, which came just after the French had successfully hosted the Euro 2016 soccer tournament and launched a massive security operation during it.

A lone gunman ploughed a white truck into families celebrating the French national holiday after a traditional firework parade, driving nearly 2 km (1.5 miles) along the Promenade des Anglais seafront before he was shot dead.

Germany said it had boosted border controls at airports as well as road and rail crossings into France in response, as did Italy.

Britain and Belgium said their threat level was already severe, indicating they regard an attack is “highly likely”. It was the third time that France has been hit in 18 months, following the attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in January 2015 and a wave of gun and bomb assaults in November on a concert hall, restaurants and bars and the national soccer stadium.

Last month, a knife attacker killed two French police officers in their home before being shot deal by police.

He uploaded a macabre video on the scene of the murders pledging allegiance to Islamic State and warning the French that Islamists would take the fight to their homes and their homeland just as the French military was doing by participating in air strikes on IS targets in Syria and Iraq.

 

Agencies/special correspondent