Six years after the July 14, 2016 attack in Nice in southeastern France, eight defendants will appear starting Monday before the special assize court in Paris for a new, off-the-charts terrorist trial, scheduled to last more than three months.
This attack on the Promenade des Anglais, on the evening of the National Holiday, had killed 86 people, including 15 children and adolescents, and more than 450 injured. This is the second deadliest attack on French soil, after the attacks of November 13, 2015.
As a symbol, the trial will take place in the “custom-built” courtroom built for the November 13 trial (known as “V13”), in the historic Palais de Justice in the capital.
A total of 865 people had registered as civil parties at the end of August, others will be able to do so during the hearing. For those who cannot come to Paris, the trial will be broadcast at the Acropolis congress center in Nice.
The author of the facts, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31 year old Tunisian, will be the great absentee of the debates.
On July 14, 2016, at the wheel of a 19-ton truck, he had driven into the crowd gathered to attend the fireworks and concerts organized that evening on the famous avenue of Nice. He was killed there by the police.
The attack, eighteen months after the attack on the premises of the satirical weekly Charlie-Hebdo and eight months after those of November 13, was claimed by the Islamic State organization. A claim “of pure opportunity,” however, concluded the investigation, which has not established a direct link between the author and the jihadist group.
In the absence of the assailant, the judges of the special court of assizes, presided over by Laurent Raviot, will examine the responsibility of seven men and one woman, aged between 27 and 48 years, members of his entourage or alleged intermediaries in the trafficking of weapons intended for Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel.
Three defendants (Ramzi Kevin Arefa, Chokri Chafroud and Mohamed Ghraieb) are being prosecuted for terrorist association. The first, in a state of legal recidivism, faces life imprisonment, the other two twenty years in prison.
The other five (Maksim Celaj, Endri Elezi, Artan Henaj, Brahim Tritou and Enkeledja Zace) are being prosecuted for criminal conspiracy and weapons offences. They face five to ten years in prison.
Only three defendants will be in the dock (one of whom is incarcerated in another case).
Four will appear free, under judicial supervision. The eighth, Brahim Tritrou, is the subject of an arrest warrant after breaking his judicial control. According to his lawyer, he is being held in Tunisia.
In the absence of the assailant and while complicity in murder has not been held against the defendants, many civil parties say they “do not expect much” from the trial, which they expect to be “frustrating.
“I hear this frustration, it is human. But there will be a judicial response,” the French Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, recently assured. “We are responding to this barbarism with the law.
In addition to judging their presumed perpetrators, these major trials of terrorist acts also make it possible to “facilitate the work of reconstruction of the victims,” emphasized on France Inter radio the public prosecutor near the Court of Cassation, François Molins.
In addition, they “participate in the construction of a kind of collective memory around mass killings,” added the man who was Paris prosecutor during the 2015-2016 attacks.
On Friday, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin was keen to point out on BFMTV that the “terrorist threat remains very important,” referring to “intentions to come to the national soil and commit attacks.”
As in the V13 trial, the hearing will be webcast for the civil parties, with a 30 minute delay. New in the system, this web radio will be accessible from abroad and translation will be provided in English.
The trial will also be filmed and recorded for history.
Among the expected witnesses, the former president of the Republic François Hollande and his then Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve, who had already testified at the V13 trial.
Five weeks will be devoted to the testimonies of the civil parties, relatives of the victims and survivors of the attack, before the first interrogations of the defendants in early November.
The verdict is expected on December 16.