France: Of henchmen and terror suspects: Nice process ends

A summer evening in Nice in southern France.

France: Of henchmen and terror suspects: Nice process ends

A summer evening in Nice in southern France. The waterfront promenade is packed with families, groups of friends and tourists who watched the spectacular Bastille Day fireworks display. Then a truck weighing several tons sped into the crowd, driving zigzag lines, killing 86 people and injuring more than 200 others. The vehicle only comes to a standstill after about two kilometers. The assassin shoots, the police kill him.

Almost six and a half years after the terrorist attack on July 14, 2016, which was probably motivated by Islamism, the trial of eight suspected supporters of the assassin is coming to an end. Today the accused can speak one last time before the special court in Paris.

The attack, in which two students and a teacher from Berlin died, left deep wounds in France, which was already badly hit by terror. The brutal actions of the Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel were just as shocking as the large number of children among the dead and injured. The terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the crime - out of sheer opportunism, as the public prosecutor has now said.

Relatives with sleep problems, suicidal thoughts

The process, which has been ongoing since September, has received little public attention. For the more than 2000 joint plaintiffs, the proceedings were nevertheless an opportunity to be heard. "It's been six years and it's very difficult for me to go on," said 20-year-old Audrey Borla, who lost her twin sister Laura in the attack. "It was the love of my life, half my life." The co-plaintiff told about sleep problems and suicidal thoughts that tormented her in the meantime.

The family was on the promenade at the time of the attack, Laura was lost. "I couldn't breathe, I felt like I was taking her last breath. That pain, it was like my heart had been bled dry." Today Borla works as a hairdresser, her sister's dream job. "It is for them that I am alive, even if there were moments when I wanted to end everything."

Among the joint plaintiffs is the mother of one of the Berlin schoolgirls, who was on a high school trip to the port city and was killed in the attack. "For me, she was a little girl who had just turned 18 and who still wanted to see a lot of the world, that's not fair," the mother complained in tears in court. "I want the people who were there, who took part, not to come out. You are cruel." Today the woman is simply waiting for a verdict, her lawyer Alexandra de Brossin de Méré told the German Press Agency. Speaking in the process did her client very good.

Demand: 15 years in prison for three of the accused

None of the eight defendants are on trial for complicity. Three men have to answer for membership in a terrorist organization, five for violations of gun laws. Prosecutors made it clear that none of them could be convicted of being the assassin.

In their closing arguments, the prosecution now only asked for two of the men, who were close friends of the assassin, to be convicted of membership in a terrorist organization. They would have known of his attitude and that he was capable of committing an attack. The two should be behind bars for 15 years.

Likewise the man who got the perpetrator the pistol used in the attack - from the point of view of the public prosecutor's office the most serious crime involved in the process. For the five other defendants, who were also involved in procuring a weapon, the prosecution demanded between two and ten years in prison and some state bans.

No direct connection to IS

Even if the assassin who was shot is not in court himself, the trial dealt in detail with his attack plans and his attitude. The assassin aimed at the highest possible number of victims and his actions were extremely violent, according to the prosecutor. His goal was to commit a terrorist attack, and the radicalized man, fascinated by Islamist terror, clearly wanted to give it a jihadist dimension. However, there was no direct connection to IS.

On Tuesday there could be a verdict in Paris against the alleged like-minded people and henchmen of the assassin - an important step for the relatives. Many of them have probably already benefited from the fact that the public prosecutor's office has admitted to official errors and apologized for them.

But one question should still concern the relatives after Tuesday: Were the security precautions in Nice sufficient? Investigations are still ongoing in the port city. Numerous relatives and victims are hoping for another trial.