Six years later, the trial of the July 14 attack in Nice opens in Paris

The truck attack left 86 dead and more than 450 injured on the Promenade des Anglais on the evening of July 14, 2016. The trial opens on Monday, September 5.

A summer has passed. Just two months after closing its doors on the November 13 attacks trial, the huge courtroom specially built in the heart of the courthouse on the Ile de la Cité, in Paris, reopens this Monday for a new major trial: that of the attack of July 14, 2016 in Nice. Again, the numbers are enough to make you dizzy. After four years of investigation, the special assize court chaired by Laurent Raviot will have, for at least three months, to examine the responsibility of each of the eight defendants in this attack which left 86 dead, more than 450 injured and thousands of traumatized. Eight hundred and sixty-five people or associations have already joined as civil parties in this trial in which 133 lawyers will take part.

But in the ranks of the civil parties as in those of the defense, all insist: even if one and the other concern mass attacks, there is no question of comparing the two files. ” The Nice trial will suffer a lot from the temporal proximity to that of Paris, because we will be making comparisons that will not necessarily be positivedreads Me Gérard Chemla, who represents more than 65 victims in this trial. We will have a big disappointment on the part of the victims, because the trial will not be able to live up to the precedent. »

The delicate question of the AMT

Because unlike the attacks of November 13, 2015, that of July 14, 2016 was not organized from Syria. No link has been established between the author of the truck attack, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, and members of the Islamic State organization which claimed responsibility for the attack two days later. Unlike the commandos in Paris and Saint-Denis, the 31-year-old Tunisian seems to have acted alone after express self-radicalization.

In the absence of the assailant, shot down the same evening at the wheel of his truck by the police, the court will have to try eight people – seven men and a woman. Three of them are being prosecuted for criminal association with terrorism. The first defendant, Mohamed Ghraieb, is suspected of having been ” fully aware » of ” recent membership by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel to the ideology of armed jihad. The second, Chokri Chafroud, for driving on the Promenade des Anglais in his truck two days before the attack. The third, Ramzi Arefa, for having participated in the rental of this truck and the supply of the weapon used in the attack. The five others are prosecuted for criminal association, without terrorist qualification, and violations of the legislation on weapons. They are suspected of having supplied or participated in the supply of arms.

The charge of “complicity in assassinations in connection with a terrorist enterprise” – which targeted several defendants – having been dropped at the end of the investigation, it is therefore around this notion of association of terrorist criminals (AMT) that will focus the discussions. This vaguely defined offence, punishable by 20 years in prison at the time of the events, is based on three criteria: the existence of an agreement with a terrorist plan; the material element making it possible to establish participation within this group; the intentional element, which requires that the person knowingly participated in this grouping.

The whole issue is whether these three people associated themselves with Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel in knowledge of his alleged degree of radicalization “Summarizes Me Adelaïde Jacquin, who represents Ramzi Arefa. ” It is obvious that the defense will ask the question of knowing from when one is in AMT, anticipates Me Chemla. This is the recurring subject of all these cases. »

A distance ” vexatious »

Some also hope that these three months of hearing will shed light on the gray areas that persist around the personality of Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel and the reasons that led him to commit the attack. Why did this man, described as sadistic and violent, but above all not religious, come to throw his 19 tons at a crowd of 30,000 people, including many families, who came to watch the July 14 fireworks on the “Prom”? The testimony of expert psychologists and psychiatrists is eagerly awaited. As in the November 13 trial, several civil parties also want it to give the opportunity to point out the dysfunctions in the care of the victims and the identification of the deceased. ” It took us four days to find Camille “, denounces Anne Murris, president of the Memorial association of angels, about her daughter killed that evening.

But beyond the absence of author and accomplice, the holding of the trial in Paris and not in Nice risks being another reason for disappointment. This estrangement is sometimes felt as vexatious “, reports Me Olivia Chalus-Penochet, who coordinates the collective of lawyers for civil parties 14-07. While victims will be able to follow the proceedings live via a web radio now accessible abroad and from the Acropolis convention center in Nice, this non-interactive broadcast makes their lawyers fear that they are only spectators of this trial.

The distance also risks complicating exchanges with their clients and the essential educational work they provide. ” Since 1986, there has been a very strict application of the principle of centralization in the fight against terrorism, justifies the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (Pnat). From the investigation to the verdict, everything takes place in Paris, the objective being to provide the best response to the terrorist phenomenon. Wherever they are, the civil parties can, through their lawyers, ask questions and call witnesses. Their rights do not depend on where they are. »

Personify Mass Attack »

The victims questioned nevertheless want to believe that this trial will bring to light a tragedy that they consider forgotten. Jean-Claude Hubler, president of the Life for Nice association, says that for six years he felt a feeling ” abandonment “. ” We have been relegated to the status of second-class victims confirms Anne Murris. ” The date of the attack does not help matters, observes Célia Viale, co-president of the association Promenade des anges, who lost her mother Marie-Pierre in the attack. July 14, for the French, is the national holiday, not the attack in Nice. We feel a bit alienated from our country. “As the trial approaches, the one who did not expect much, works to appropriate it. She will therefore testify during the five weeks dedicated to the hearings of the civil parties. She will talk about her mother and the pain she felt when she learned of her death. ” You have to personify this mass attack “, she insists.

Not all will go. Some because of the travel expenses they will have to pay, others because they don’t see the point, still others for fear of awakening memories they prefer to keep buried. Me Gérard Chemla thus assesses at “ 10-15% » the proportion of its clients who will take the stand. Anne Murris, she has encouraged her members to do so. For her, this is a decisive step in the memorial enterprise carried out by her association. ” We believe that individual memory allows a collective memory and, beyond that, a societal memory. It is a means of education and prevention. The testimonies, as violent as they are, mark the spirits. They provoke an emotion that leads to a need to understand. »

Finally, there is the question of security measures, about which another investigation was opened the day after the attack. The case, still under investigation, could disrupt the debates. Among the civil parties, many consider it even more important than the terrorist component. ” The question of the responsibility of the community, whether local or national, which would not have been able to protect, is recurrent in cases of terrorism, we notice at the Pnat. But that is not what is before the court. It will be up to her to remind the parties. » Will they hear it? ” Some victims will address the issue, warns Jean-Claude Hubler. I myself intend to mention it. » « This trial is not an end in itself, believes Celia Viale. Do not forget the education. »

Sixty-four days of hearing

The trial of the July 14 attack in Nice opens this Monday, September 5 at 1:30 p.m. It will then take place, with some exceptions, four days a week, from Tuesday morning to Friday evening. The hearing, filmed for the historical archives of Justice, will be held in the “grand trial” room built within the courthouse on the Ile de la Cité, in Paris. It will be broadcast live at the Acropolis convention center in Nice, where a 500-seat room will be reserved for civil parties. The first week will be devoted to the general presentation of the facts and the investigation. The hearings of the technical experts, the forensic doctor and the witnesses called by the civil parties will follow. The former President of the Republic François Hollande and the former Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve are particularly expected.

From September 20 and for five weeks, the civil parties who wish to do so will come and testify at the bar. A moment that some consider important in the process of reconstruction. Four days will then be devoted to the career and personality of the assailant, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, killed by the police on board his truck. The personality and role of each of the eight defendants will be examined for three weeks, before the final hearings of psychiatric and psychological experts and the start of the pleadings of the civil parties. The National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office will issue its requisitions from December 6, which will be followed by the defense pleadings. After a final speech by the defendants, the court will then retire to deliberate. Will this schedule be turned upside down by the Covid-19, as was the case for the November 13 trial? The verdict is currently expected on December 16.

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Six years later, the trial of the July 14 attack in Nice opens in Paris

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