Paris (CNSNews.com) – Six years after an ISIS-inspired terrorist turned France’s national day into a nightmare for the people of Nice, seven men and a woman have gone on trial in Paris on various charges relating to the attack.
Eighty-six people were killed and more than 450 others were injured when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Tunisian man with residence in France, drove a 20-ton truck into hundreds of people enjoying Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city.
The 31-year-old perpetrator was killed by police on the scene and will not be in the dock. Those on trial include three men who have been detained since the attack – Mohamed Ghraieb, Chokri Chafroud and Ramzi Arefa – accused of terrorist association. Investigators were unable to determine if they had prior knowledge of the attack.
The five remaining accused, facing criminal association and weapons trafficking charges, have not been in custody. Members of an Albanian gang active in Nice, they are accused of having provided arms indirectly to Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, but not of being accomplices.
(One of the five, Brahim Tritou, is thought to be in Tunisia and an international warrant for his arrest is in place. He will be tried in absentia.)
According to the investigating judges, it has not been established that any of the accused were supporters of a jihadist ideology. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel himself was found to have been inspired by ISIS, although was not a member of the terrorist group.
The trial, which will run through December, has prompted debate about the level of terror threat in the country today.
“The threat of terrorist attacks on French soil by Islamist extremists from Iraq and Syria is high,” Jean-François Ricard, chief prosecutor at the National Terrorism Prosecution Office, told BFM TV, adding that the threat has been increasing since 2020.
Ricard said another potential threat was posed by the fact that a number of people convicted in France on terrorism-related charges are soon to be released.
“Very often, they have not given up any of their convictions,” he said. “However, judicial and intelligence services will closely monitor these released detainees.”
Wassim Nasr, an expert in jihadism, told media outlets the threat of terrorism remains real, although “the existing legal arsenal has been so reinforced that even the idea of forming a group to commit an attack in France is very quickly foiled.”
All terrorist committed in France in recent years have been carried out by radicalized Muslims. Nasr warned that as more people are becoming radicalized in France and may commit terror acts, that “makes it difficult to prevent.”
On the night of July 14, 2016, crowds of locals and visitors were on Nice’s famous seaside boardwalk to view fireworks celebrating the 1789 French revolution when the vehicle-ramming attack occurred.
The incident prompted many to criticize police forces and security services for not having been prepared for it. A total of 850 people are civil parties in the case, and many want to know about security measures put in place that day.
Célia Viale, whose mother, Marie-Pierre, died during the attack, is at the Paris court.
“We wonder how it is possible to let an event that brings together so many people, happen with only around 60 police officers and no concrete plan,” she told reporters. “It is unthinkable, just a few months after the November 13 attack on the Stade de France and the Bataclan concert hall.”
The November 2015 attacks in Paris cost 130 lives when three teams of ISIS terrorists attacked a sports stadium, bars, restaurants and a concert hall.
The Nice attack trial is taking place at the special Assizes Court in Paris, which has jurisdiction in terrorism cases. It will be broadcast simultaneously at the Nice Convention Center, for those unable to go to Paris, and will also be viewable online around the world – a first for a terrorism trial in France.