Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

The 31-year-old Tunisian delivery driver who drove his heavy truck into crowds gathered to watch fireworks on Bastille Day in Nice on Bastille Day in 2016, killing 86 people and injuring more than 400, could not have committed the crime without the “valuable help” of three friends, the court heard.

After weeks of harrowing testimony from mourners and survivors of the second deadliest massacre in peacetime France, who described screams, bloodshed and the sound of bones breaking, the family’s lawyers began summarizing on Wednesday.

Lawyer Catherine Szwarc said the truck attack was not an opportunistic gesture, but planned terrorism. She said “every small act” of help was crucial for the three men on trial for helping lorry driver Mohamed Lahouaie-Bouhlel. They face charges of participating in a terrorist criminal organization to help the gunman obtain the weapons and the truck.

Lahouaiej-Bouhlela was shot dead by police on the night of the attack as he fired a semi-automatic weapon from the cab of a truck at the end of his four-minute zigzag ride through the crowd.

Lawyer Fabien Rajon said: ‚ÄúThousands of families were destroyed forever, it killed more children than any other attack in Europe. It caused carnage on a night when parents took their children out to see fireworks; their only weapons were shorts and T-shirts and a baby carriage. They didn’t expect a war scene with torn bodies.”

Unlike most other terrorist cases in France, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel left very clear clues to potential accomplices. Six minutes before he started the truck attack, he sent a text message to an acquaintance, Ramzi Arefa, who gave him cannabis and cocaine and bought him a gun, saying that the weapon was great and that he wanted five more for “Chokri and his friends.” . This implicated another friend, Chokri Chafroud, a fellow Tunisian who was struggling to find work and housing.

Szwarc told the court that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had printed out photographs of himself with two friends, Chafroud and Nice Hotel night guard Mohamed Ghraieb, leaving them at his home with a list of phone numbers and addresses, clearly implicating them.

All denied knowledge or involvement in the truck attack and implied that he had tried to set them up. Two were photographed with him in a truck a few days ago, but they said they thought it was a truck from his workplace.

Another man is being tried in absentia, and the four accused Albanians, who never met the attacker, face lesser charges of arms trafficking.

The court heard how Lahouaiej-Bouhel was a bodybuilding fan and amateur salsa dancer who charmed older women in his 70s and 80s at his dance club.

He had a brutal upbringing in southern Tunisia before moving to France with his young wife, who he subjected to daily domestic violence. She filed complaints with the police twice – in 2014 she told officers he had urinated on her, defecated on purpose in their bedroom and stabbed one of their children’s children, saying he was “not going to stop there”.

After failing to respond to police calls, Lahouaiej-Bouhlela was finally questioned by police in relation to domestic violence two years after his wife’s complaint in 2014. The questioning took place three weeks before he committed the crime in Nice. He was not detained for domestic violence. The chief judge at the Nice attack trial has described the police’s attitude towards allegations of domestic violence as “cavalier”.

Lahouaiej-Bouhlel took a cursory interest in Islam in the weeks before the Nice attacks and visited jihadist websites. Islamic State would later claim responsibility for his attack, but waited two days to do so, offering no evidence that the attacker had direct contact with the group.

Chafroud was asked in court about the messages sent by Lahouaiej-Bouhlel talking about loading a truck with “2,000 tons of iron, cutting the break and I will watch”. Chafroud told the court it was a joke and he was traumatized as a child when a friend was run over by a truck in front of him.

Arefa, who was 21 years old at the time of the attack, sold cannabis and cocaine to Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, and found his weapons through an Albanian drug contact. Asked by the judge what he thought the gun would be used for, Arefa said: “It might shock you, but I never asked myself that question.” He denied any knowledge or connection with terrorism.

Ghraieb denied any knowledge of the attack or terrorism. Asked why he walked along the boardwalk after the attack to observe the aftermath, he said it was on his way home.

The trial continues until December 13.