'Scariest moment of my life': Witnesses relate horror of deadly French crash

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Nice Truck Attack Captured On Social Media

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The truck that ran into a Bastille Day celebration Thursday night in Nice, France, killing dozens, appeared to have done so in a well-planned, intentional attack, witnesses and security experts told NBC News.

Photos: Scenes of Fear After Truck Slams Into Crowd in France

Nader El Shafei, 42, was vacationing from Cairo, in the lobby of the Hotel Mercure on the Promenade des Anglais, watching holiday fireworks when he saw the truck.

"He smashed into a lot of people," El Shafei told NBC News. "I was waving to the driver, 'Stop' there's a girl under the truck.'"

Images from the tragic scene:

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Truck attacker kills dozens in Nice
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Truck attacker kills dozens in Nice
Police officers stand near a van, with its windscreen riddled with bullets, that ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice on July 14, 2016. Up to 30 people are feared dead and over 100 others were injured after a van drove into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French resort of Nice on July 14, a local official told French television, describing it as a 'major criminal attack'. / AFP / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers and rescue workers arrive at the scene of an attack on July 14, 2016, after a van ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice. The mayor of the French city of Nice said dozens of people were likely killed after a van rammed into a crowd marking Bastille Day in the French Riviera resort today and urged residents to stay indoors. / AFP / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers and rescued workers stand near a van that ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice on July 14, 2016. The mayor of the French city of Nice said dozens of people were likely killed after a van rammed into a crowd marking Bastille Day in the French Riviera resort today and urged residents to stay indoors. / AFP / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers stand near a van, with its windscreen riddled with bullets, that ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice on July 14, 2016. The mayor of the French city of Nice said dozens of people were likely killed after a van rammed into a crowd marking Bastille Day in the French Riviera resort today and urged residents to stay indoors. / AFP / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - An injured individual is seen on the ground after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - An injured individual is seen on the ground after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
French soldiers and rescue forces are seen at the scene whare at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
French soldiers cordon the area after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - A body is seen on the ground July 15, 2016 after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - Bodies are seen on the ground July 15, 2016 after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday, July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard TEMPLATE OUT.
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - Bodies are seen on the ground July 15, 2016 after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - Bodies are seen on the ground July 15, 2016 after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
French police and rescue forces vehicles are seen on the Promenade des Anglais July 15, 2016 after at least 60 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14. REUTERS/Jean-Pierre Amet
People cross the street with their hands on thier heads as a French soldier secures the area July 15, 2016 after at least 60 people were killed along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14. REUTERS/Jean-Pierre Amet
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - A man sits next to a body seen on the ground July 15, 2016 after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - An injured individual is seen on the ground after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH - An injured individual is seen on the ground after at least 30 people were killed in Nice, France, when a truck ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
French police forces and forensic officers stand next to a truck July 15, 2016 that ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday on the Promenade des Anglais killing at least 60 people in Nice, France, July 14. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
A man walks with his hands up as police officers carry out checks on people in the centre of French Riviera town of Nice, after a van that ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display on July 14, 2016. At least 60 people are feared dead after a van drove into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French resort of Nice on July 14, authorities said on July 15. / AFP / Valery HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
A soldier stands guard near the site of an attack in the French Riviera town of Nice, after a van that ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display on July 14, 2016. Up to 30 people are feared dead and over 100 others were injured after a van drove into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French resort of Nice on July 14, a local official told French television, describing it as a 'major criminal attack'. / AFP / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers speak with a soldier after a van that ploughed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice on July 14, 2016. Up to 30 people are feared dead and over 100 others were injured after a van drove into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French resort of Nice on July 14, a local official told French television, describing it as a 'major criminal attack'. / AFP / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
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He said he still thought it might have been an accident at that point, but then realized it was likely a deliberate attack. "He was not concentrating on what was going on. He was looking back and forth," said El Shafei.

Related: 'Pathway of Bodies': San Diego Woman Describes Watching Horror Unfold in Nice Attack

"I saw him pick up a phone, I thought, and at this point I still think it's an accident and then I see he pulls out a gun. It looked like a handgun, a Glock. He pulled it out and I understood something was wrong...and then I see the police shooting him."

As everyone started to flee, he remained still.

"I couldn't run," he said. "I was just frozen."

NBC News terrorism security analyst Malcolm Nance, executive director of the Terror Asymmetrics Project, a nonprofit research institute, said the incident bore all the hallmarks of a "major terror attack."

Vehicular traffic is barred from the promenade on holidays, meaning the driver of the truck would have had to negotiate several roadblocks to reach the area, said Nance, a former veteran federal counterterrorism officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

Nance said the driver used a strategy often used by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and by attackers in Israel — zigzagging through the crowd and then speeding up when authorities tried to pull him over.

Nance stressed that the use of methods associated with al Qaeda didn't necessarily mean the driver was affiliated with the terrorist group.

But "clearly, they wanted a very high body count," he said. "They wanted it done in a spectacular fashion."

Eyewitnesses uniformly agreed.

"It doesn't look like this is some horrible accident," said Bob Franken, an NBC News producer at the scene. Franken said he "personally saw over a dozen [people] mowed down."

Dr. Kevin Motamedi of Denver, a physician who is in Nice as part of a six-week tour of Europe, told NBC News that the incident "certainly was no accident."

Related: New York City Woman Caught in Aftermath of Nice, France Attack

The incident started as thousands of people were leaving the beach about 20 minutes after a large fireworks display to celebrate France's national holiday, Motamedi said.

"We were actually talking about how that basically would have been the perfect setup for a terrorist attack, because you had wild explosions, and it's hard to differentiate gunfire from fireworks from a bomb going off," he said.

"For something like this to have happened, especially right after the fireworks, clearly it was a very well-coordinated, well-timed event, because it certainly was no accident," Motamedi said, adding: "It was the scariest moment of my life, easily."

See vigils for the victims from all over the world:

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Vigils around the world for the Nice attack victims
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Vigils around the world for the Nice attack victims
Members of the Australian French community place candles during a vigil in central Sydney, Australia, July 15, 2016 to remember the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. REUTERS/David Gray
Members of the Australian French community place candles during a vigil in central Sydney, Australia, July 15, 2016, to remember the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. REUTERS/David Gray
Members of the Australian French community place candles during a vigil in central Sydney, Australia, July 15, 2016 to remember the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. REUTERS/David Gray
School children offer prayers to pay tribute to the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, at a school in Ahmedabad, India, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave
Members of the Australian French community cry as they sing the French national anthem during a vigil in central Sydney, Australia, July 15, 2016 to remember the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. REUTERS/David Gray
BANGKOK, THAILAND - JULY 15: French ambassador to Thailand Gilles Garachonk (4th R) joins a vigil to remember the victims of the attack in the French city of Nice at the Alliance Francaise, on July 15, in Bangkok, Thailand. A French-Tunisian attacker killed 84 people as he drove a lorry through crowds, gathered to watch a firework display during Bastille Day celebrations. The attacker then opened fire on people in the crowd before being shot dead by police. (Photo by Dario Pignatelli/Getty Images)
Indian citizens take part in a candle light vigil for the victims of the Mumbai attacks in New Delhi on December 7, 2008.India accuses the banned Islamist movement Laskhar-e-Taiba of training and equipping the 10 militants who stormed India's financial capital by boat to kill 188 people and leaving more than 300 others injured during the 60-hour orgy of violence that saw two luxury hotels and a number of other sites targeted. AFP PHOTO/ Manpreet ROMANA (Photo credit should read MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images)
In the courtyard of the apt. building where killer, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, lived, (LÂR) Kolleen Alldridge, hugs her son, Gavyn Alldridge, 4, while apartment complex manager, Alice Thompson, huddles close to her friend during a candle light vigil where neighbors are trying to come to terms with the shooting, in Killeen, Texas November 07, 09. THe neighbors all said what a nice person Mr Hasan was. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A boy lays a candles to form a heart around a bag reading 'Nice Olympic Swimming' during a candlelight vigil for swimming gold medallist Camille Muffat on March 10, 2015 her hometown, the southeastern French city of Nice, after she died along with nine other people in a helicopter crash in Argentina while filming a reality TV show. France was plunged into mourning on March 10 after three well-known sports stars, including the Olympic champion swimmer and one of the world's best sailors, died when two helicopters filming the survival series 'Dropped' smashed into each other in the rugged mountains of La Rioja province, local officials said. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
A hand holds a candle and a French flag above the crowd during a vigil to honor victims of the Bastille Day attack, in Sydney, Australia, Friday, July 15, 2016. World leaders are expressing dismay, sadness and solidarity with France over the attack carried out by a man who drove truck into crowds of people celebrating France's national day in Nice. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
People stand around a circle of candles during a moment of silence at a vigil to honor victims of the Bastille Day tragedy in Nice, France, in Sydney, Australia, Friday, July 15, 2016. World leaders are expressing dismay, sadness and solidarity with France over the attack carried out by a man who drove truck into crowds of people celebrating France's national day in Nice. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
A young woman wipes her face as people honor victims of the Bastille Day attack with a moment of silence during a vigil, in Sydney, Australia, Friday, July 15, 2016. World leaders are expressing dismay, sadness and solidarity with France over the attack carried out by a man who drove truck into crowds of people celebrating France's national day in Nice. AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Indian school children attend a prayer ceremony in memory of victims of a truck attack in France, at a school in Ahmadabad, India, Friday, July 15, 2016. A large truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, killing dozens of people and sending people fleeing into the sea as it bore down for more than a mile along the Riviera city's famed waterfront promenade. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
Flowers are pictured near the scene where a truck mowed through revelers in Nice, southern France, Friday, July 15, 2016. A large truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, killing more than 80 people and sending people fleeing into the sea as it bore down for more than a mile along the Riviera city's famed waterfront promenade. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A woman puts flowers near the scene where a truck mowed through revelers in Nice, southern France, Friday, July 15, 2016. A large truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, killing more than 80 people and sending people fleeing into the sea as it bore down for more than a mile along the Riviera city's famed waterfront promenade. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
People react near the scene where a truck mowed through revelers in Nice, southern France, Friday, July 15, 2016. A large truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, killing more than 80 people and sending people fleeing into the sea as it bore down for more than a mile along the Riviera city's famed waterfront promenade. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A man walks through the gates of the French Embassy in Madrid, Spain, Friday, July 15, 2016, past flowers and tributes left outside. France has been stunned again after a large white truck killed many people after it mowed through a crowd of revellers gathered for a Bastille Day fireworks display in the Riviera city of Nice. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry lay flowers outside the French Embassy in Moscow on July 15, 2016 in tribute to the victims of the deadly attack in the French Riviera city of Nice. Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack in Nice as an act of 'monstrous evil' in a message to his French counterpart. A gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing at least 84 people in what President Francois Hollande called a 'terrorist' attack. / AFP / Vasily MAXIMOV (Photo credit should read VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People lay flowers outside the French embassy in Moscow on July 15, 2016 in tribute to the victims of the deadly attack in the French Riviera city of Nice. Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 15 condemned the attack in Nice as an act of 'monstrous evil' in a message to his French counterpart. A gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing at least 84 people in what President Francois Hollande called a 'terrorist' attack. / AFP / VASILY MAXIMOV (Photo credit should read VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A man lays flowers in front of the French embassy in Kiev French the day after a gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day, killing at least 84 people on July 15, 2016. A Tunisian-born man zigzagged a truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, killing at least 84 and injuring dozens of children in what President Francois Hollande on July 15 called a 'terrorist' attack. / AFP / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
NICE, FRANCE - JULY 15: People visit the scene and lay tributes to the victims of a terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais on July 15, 2016 in Nice, France. A French-Tunisian attacker killed 84 people as he drove a lorry through crowds, gathered to watch a firework display during Bastille Day celebrations. The attacker then opened fire on people in the crowd before being shot dead by police.(Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
NICE, FRANCE - JULY 15: People visit the scene and lay tributes to the victims of a terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais on July 15, 2016 in Nice, France. A French-Tunisian attacker killed 84 people as he drove a lorry through crowds, gathered to watch a firework display during Bastille Day celebrations. The attacker then opened fire on people in the crowd before being shot dead by police.(Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
A sand sculpture about the France truck attack looks at the Bay of Bengal Sea's eastern coast beach at Puri, creating by sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik to condemn this terror attack near by 65 km away from the eastern Indian city Bhubaneswar, India, on 15 July 2016. (Photo by Biswaranjan Rout/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A man places flowers in front of the French Embassy in Berlin on July 15, 2016, after the deadly attacks in Nice. A man drove a truck into a crowd watching fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing at least 84 people. / AFP / John MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 15, 2016: Flowers outside the French Embassy in Moscow commemorating victims of the 2016 terror attack in the French resort city of Nice. On 14 July 2016, a truck ploughed into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais. 84 people were killed in the attack. Sergei Savostyanov/TASS (Photo by Sergei Savostyanov\TASS via Getty Images)
A girl holds up a placard during a prayer meet to show solidarity with the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, at a school in Ahmedabad, India, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave
A man reacts near bouquets of flowers as people pay tribute near the scene where a truck ran into a crowd at high speed killing scores and injuring more who were celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday, in Nice, France, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
School children offer prayers to pay tribute to the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, at a school in Ahmedabad, India, July 15, 2016. The placard reads, "Tribute to the people killed in the terror attack in France". REUTERS/Amit Dave TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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A woman identifying herself as Coralie told France 24 News that a "very, very big truck" began running people over.

"I pushed my mother into a building along with about 50 other people. When I reached the door, shots were fired," she told the station.

"We left the kids' strollers on the ground floor, carried the kids in our arms and we waited," she said. "We thought it's not possible, but people were yelling 'It's a terrorist attack!' when the truck started running people over.

"Then more shots were fired."

Sophie Sanderlands, an Australian woman who was on vacation in Nice, told Australia's Seven Network that the scene went from a "really happy mood" to absolute chaos.

"We were down on the beach front enjoyoing the fireworks that they put on for the celebration nothing seemed out of place five or six minutes after it finished, started walking down," she told the network. " People everywhere, really happy mood, nothing was out of place, and then all of a sudden, thousands of people just started running towards us, screaming, crying, absolutely out of control."

She said "there were strollers on the ground, people crammed into restaurants, people trying to into restaurants but they were shutting them out because there was no room left, pulling curtains across windows."

Linda Hervieux reported from Nice, France

SEE ALSO: Most deadly terrorist groups in France since 2000

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