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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Eight Found Guilty in the Bastille Day Terror Attack Trial

The defendants were found guilty of helping the perpetrator prepare for the assault

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FRANCE: A French court on Tuesday found eight defendants guilty of aiding in the terrorist attack that killed 86 people in the Mediterranean city of Nice in 2016, after a trial that offered some closure to survivors and the bereaved but did little to clarify the motives behind the massacre.

The Riviera city’s coastline was likened to a “war zone” by survivors of the attack after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel purposefully targeted those celebrating France’s national day by zipping down it at great speed.

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Chokri Chafroud and Mohamed Ghraieb were sentenced to 18 years in prison after being found guilty of participating in criminal terrorist activity by a Paris court. Ramzi Arefa, a third man, suspected of assisting Lahouaiej-Bouhlel in obtaining a weapon, was also found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Five other defendants—four men and a woman—on trial for their involvement in the assault were found guilty of “associated with a criminal to commit a crime.”

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On July 14, 2016, just before 11 p.m., Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, started his murderous four-minute drive down the Nice coastline, where an estimated 40,000 spectators had assembled to enjoy a fireworks show.

He intentionally swerved into crowds of people for more than 2 kilometers as he careered along the Promenade des Anglais in a 21-ton white Renault, causing the most significant number of fatalities and injuries. Fifteen children, the youngest of whom was only two years old, were among the deceased.

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Lahouaiej-Bouhjlel, a French-Tunisian delivery driver with a history of misdemeanor offenses, was shot and killed by police when he started firing a semi-automatic rifle into the crowd.

The attack occurred eight months and one day after a string of terrorist shootings and bombings in Paris that left 131 people dead, including 90 at the Bataclan concert hall. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack two days later, but French anti-terrorism investigators could not establish any connections between IS and the lorry driver.

The trial began in September and was presided over by five qualified judges rather than a jury. During the trial, the court heard heartbreaking testimony from mourning relatives and survivors of the second-deadliest massacre in French history. Witnesses reported the bloodshed and screams that occurred after the truck hit the crowd.

The court was informed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel needed three friends’ “precious help” to carry out the massacre.

Potential accomplices can find clear hints left by Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. He texted Arefa, a 27-year-old Franco-Tunisian acquaintance who had given him cocaine, marijuana, and a gun, six minutes before the attack started, requesting five more firearms for “Chokri and his friends.”

The 47-year-old Ghraieb denied any involvement with terrorism or the incident. When asked why he had strolled along the seafront to watch the attack’sattack’s aftermath, he replied that he was heading home.

Arefa, 27, had provided Lahouaiej-Bouhlel with a weapon through an Albanian drug associate and sold him marijuana and cocaine. Arefa responded, “It might shock you, but I never asked myself the question,” when the judge inquired as to what he believed the rifle would be used for. He denied any involvement in or knowledge of terrorism.

The advocate general for the state, Alexa Dubourg, emphasized as the trial came to a close on Monday that the trial would not be able to make up for the “immense, unfathomable” suffering of the bereaved or the survivors who had described “the horror” of that day.

However, she said the punishment had to fit the crime, and those in the dock could not be made responsible for the entire weight of the crime committed.

Ghraieb’s and Chafroud’s lawyers had pleaded for their acquittal, highlighting the “manifest poverty” of the evidence.

The eight have ten days to appeal against their conviction and sentencing.

Also Read: Australia’s Terror Threat Level Lowers Since 2014

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