After a first day of hearing largely devoted to the enumeration of people wishing to join civil proceedings (they are 1,940, of which 300 want to testify), the Special Assize Court of Paris heard this Tuesday the first words of the accused in the second the day of the trial of the Nice attack on July 14, 2016, when a truck had deliberately hit the crowd, causing the death of 86 people who came to watch the fireworks on the Promenade des Anglais.
Before giving the floor to the defendants, the president of the special assize court, Laurent Raviot presented the facts and summarized the investigation. He also posed the debate on the dissemination of images of the attack from the video surveillance cameras of the City of Nice. The seven defendants present therefore then spoke for their “Statement”. Monday, they had only declined their identity and their address, at the invitation of the president.
The killer is “a bastard”
One of the three main defendants, Mohamed Ghraieb, tried for association of terrorist criminals (AMT), who had traveled on board the truck of the attack and who faces 20 years of criminal imprisonment assured Monday that he was “innocent“. The Franco-Tunisian lives in Marseille and appears free under judicial control.
He treated the terrorist”filth and bastard who took innocent lives”. The accused spoke at greater length than the others to repeat that he did not “did absolutely not know what Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was preparing”, that he was “trapped (…) in a gear” and he expressed “his sincere condolences for the families of the victims”. Another accused of arms trafficking Endri Elézi cried on the stand and said he “regretted carrying something he shouldn’t have.”
Eight defendants are being tried by the special assize court in Paris but one of them, Brahim Tritrou, prosecuted for arms trafficking is currently detained in Tunisia and will be “tried by default”. Three defendants are in the box, Ramzi Arefa, Chokri Chafroud (in pre-trial detention) and Artan Henaj (convicted in another case). Four – Maksim Celaj, Endri Elezi, Mohamed Ghraieb and Enkeledja Zace – appear free under judicial supervision.
The assailant, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian killed by the police on the evening of the attack, is the main absentee from the trial. This unstable delivery driver was better known for acts of violence, especially against his wife, than for his closeness to the jihadist movement. But according to the prosecution, he “had been part of an ideological approach of jihadist inspiration several months before” the attack, without letting anything show. The investigation did not establish whether he had benefited from accomplices.
Three defendants (Ramzi Arefa, Chokri Chafroud and Mohamed Ghraieb) are prosecuted for terrorist association. The prosecution points to their “very close” with Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel and believes that they were “fully aware” of his membership “to the ideology of armed jihad” and of “his fascination with violent acts”. The five other defendants are prosecuted for common law offenses – criminal association and offenses against the legislation on weapons.