Opening of the Nice attack trial, 86 dead on the Promenade des Anglais

Paris (AFP) – The trial of the Nice attack, which killed 86 people on the Promenade des Anglais on July 14, 2016, the evening of the French national holiday, opens Monday in Paris, six years after this attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

That evening, a truck drove into the crowd who had come to watch the fireworks on the coast of this tourist town in southeastern France. More than 450 people were injured in this attack, the deadliest committed in the country after those of November 13, 2015 against the Stade de France, the Bataclan and the terraces of Paris.

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In the absence of the assailant at the wheel of the truck, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, killed by the police on the evening of the attack, eight people of Franco-Tunisian, Tunisian or Albanian nationality, including a woman, appear before the court of special assizes of Paris, in a room specially built for the trial of 13-November.

The hearing, which will start at 11:30 GMT, is due to stretch until December 16.

The first day will be devoted to questioning the identity of the accused and updating the civil party applications. They were already 865 before the trial.

The first words of the defendants are expected on Tuesday.

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Three of them – Ramzi Kevin Arefa, Chokri Chafroud and Artan Henaj – appear detained, including one (Artan Henaj) in connection with another case.

Four others – Maksim Celaj, Endri Elezi, Mohamed Ghraieb and Enkeledja Zace – have been placed under judicial supervision and will appear free before the court.

The eighth, Brahim Tritrou, will be judged in his absence after having broken his judicial control. According to his lawyer, he is currently detained in Tunisia. An arrest warrant has been issued against him by the French courts.

Only three defendants (Ramzi Kevin Arefa, Chokri Chafroud and Mohamed Ghraieb) are prosecuted for terrorist association. In a state of legal recidivism, the first incurs life imprisonment, the other two a sentence of twenty years in prison.

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– No complicity –

For the prosecution, they would have “contributed to the preparation” of the attack committed by Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. This 31-year-old Tunisian, delivery driver with an unstable character, was better known before the facts for acts of violence, in particular against his wife, than for his closeness to the jihadist movement.

None of the defendants is being prosecuted for complicity in murder or attempted murder by an organized gang. The investigation could not determine whether they were aware of the planned attack.

The prosecution, however, underlined their “very close proximity” with Lahouaiej-Bouhlel and considered that they were “fully aware” of his adherence “to the ideology of armed jihad” and of “his fascination for acting out violent”.

According to the indictment, it was only ten days before the attack that the Tunisian showed signs of radicalization, even if he “had been part of an ideological approach of jihadist inspiration for several months before”.

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He was not on file for radicalization by the intelligence services.

If IS claimed responsibility for the attack, the investigation could not establish any direct link between Lahouaiej-Bouhlel and the jihadist organization. This claim “seems to be more (…) of pure opportunity”, she concludes.

The five other defendants are prosecuted for common law offenses – criminal association and offenses against the legislation on weapons – and incur five to ten years of imprisonment.

The trial will be broadcast simultaneously in a hall of the Acropolis convention center in Nice.

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The hearings, which will take place from Tuesday to Friday, morning and evening, will also be accessible by web radio, with a slight delay of thirty minutes, for civil parties who so request, including abroad. A full translation will be provided in English.

Like that of November 13, the trial of the Nice attack will be filmed and recorded for the historical archives.

Among the witnesses expected at the bar in the coming weeks, the former President François Hollande or the Minister of the Interior at the time Bernard Cazeneuve.

Opening of the Nice attack trial, 86 dead on the Promenade des Anglais