Nice attack trial: Eight people accused of roles in 2016 truck rampage

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By Euronews
The months-long trial will take place at a special Paris court for terrorist cases.
The months-long trial will take place at a special Paris court for terrorist cases.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard   -  

Eight people are going on trial for their alleged roles in the 2016 Nice terror attack, the second deadliest on French soil.

Six men and one woman will appear in court, accused of conspiring to help the terrorist who drove a truck into crowds on Bastille Day, before being killed by police.

An eighth suspect – currently held in Tunisia -- is being tried in absentia.

Three suspects are accused of being members of a “terrorist association”, while five are being tried for “arms trafficking”.

Some of the defendants rode with the attacker in the same truck in Nice just days before the attack, while others provided him with weapons, prosecutors said.

They were all initially accused of being “complicit” in the attack, but the charges were dropped during four years of judicial investigations.

Two people on trial are French-Tunisian dual nationals, while two others are Tunisian and four are from Albania. A ninth suspect in the case committed suicide in detention in June 2018.

Prosecutors are seeking prison sentences ranging from 5 years to life imprisonment.

On the second day of hearings, the suspects all denied any links to terrorism and told the court that they had been trapped or taken in by the attacker.

Sasha Goldsmith via AP
France was ravaged by its third attack in two years.Sasha Goldsmith via AP

What happened in the Nice truck attack?

On 14 July 2016, people were gathering in towns and cities across France to celebrate Bastille Day. In Nice, thousands of residents and tourists were assembled on the Promenade des Anglais to watch the annual firework display.

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian delivery driver who lived in the city, was driving a white truck towards the crowds, just as the fireworks display finished.

He deliberately drove the 19-tonne truck onto the pavement at high speed and zigzagged across the road for almost two kilometres, hitting pedestrians.

Eighty-six people were killed and more than 400 others were injured in the rampage.

As the truck drew level with a luxury hotel complex, French police engaged the attacker in a gunfight and shot him dead.

Two days later, the attack was claimed by members of the so-called Islamic State (IS) extremist group. Investigators say the attacker was inspired by the extremist group’s propaganda but have found no evidence of a direct link.

A city still recovering

The trial at the special court of assizes in Paris has been labelled a "memorial moment" by lawyers. It is set to last until December, with former French President François Hollande among those expected to address the court.

It also comes just two months after 20 people were convicted for their roles in the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Six years after the Nice attack, hundreds of victims are still looking for answers and lawyers have stressed that the trial in Paris could be “frustrating”.

“There will be many questions that no one will be able to answer," said Eric Morain, a lawyer for the National Federation of Victims of Attacks (Fenvac).

Nearly 900 people have been listed as civil parties in the trial, while around 2,500 people have been compensated as victims of the attack.

Last month, French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said that 91% of these victims have received a compensation offer.

"We are trying to prepare victims for the fact that the sentences may not be commensurate with their suffering," said Antoine Casubolo-Ferro, one of the lawyers of the French Association of Victims of Terrorism (AFVT).

The months-long trial will also represent "an important moment of remembrance", he added.

Additional sources • AFP