Great, France –
It’s Bastille Day on the French Riviera.
A lawyer is walking with his mother, friends and a colleague along a seaside boulevard in Nice to celebrate France’s Independence Day. Four sisters from Poland spent a day sightseeing. Two Russian students are on summer break. And a Texas family, on vacation with young children, toured some classic European attractions. The bright lights of the packed boardwalk glittered along the bay like a string of stars.
Those lights will mark a path of murder and destruction on the night of July 14, 2016. Immediately after the end of the fireworks display, a 19-ton (21-ton) truck raced through the crowd for 2 hours. km (1 1/4 mile) like a snow plow, hitting one after another.
The final death toll was 86 people, including 15 children and teenagers, while another 450 were injured.
Eight people were put on trial on Monday in a special French counter-terrorism court accused of aiding the attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who left a gruesome trail of crushed bodies and smashed all over 15 neighborhoods. Bouhlel himself was also killed by police the same night.
“It was like being on a battlefield,” said Jean Claude Hubler, a survivor and eyewitness to the horrific attack that day. He rushed to the boardwalk to help after hearing the desperate screams of everyone who had been cheering, laughing and dancing on the beach a minute earlier.
“There were people lying on the ground everywhere, some of them still alive, screaming,” Hubler said. As he waited for the ambulance to arrive, he knelt beside a man and a woman as they lay dead on the pavement, in pools of blood and surrounded by crushed and crushed bodies.
“I held her hand until my last breath,” Hubler said.
The three suspects have been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism with alleged links to the attacker. Five others face other criminal charges, including providing weapons to an attacker. If convicted, they face sentences ranging from five years to life in prison. Sentencing is expected in December.
Investigators found no evidence that any of the suspects were directly involved in the aggressive murder that hot summer night in 2016.
Bouhlel, 31 years old, Tunisian, resident in France, was the sole attacker and is considered solely responsible for the deaths of 86 people, including 33 foreigners from Poland, the United States, Russia , Algeria, Tunisia, Switzerland and other places.
Myriam Bellazouz, a lawyer, lives a few blocks from Nice’s boardwalk. She went for a walk with it with her mother the night of the attack and was killed. Friends and colleagues spent three days frantically searching the traumatic city and begging on social media to find her remains.
Only two of the four Chrzanowska sisters, who were on vacation from Poland, returned home alive.
As the truck plowed through the crowd, one of the students from Moscow, Viktoria Savachenko, couldn’t get out in time and was killed. American Sean Copeland, father of a family from a town near Austin, Texas, also died in the attack along with his 11-year-old son, Brodie.
Christophe Lyon is the sole survivor of an extended French family that gathered in Nice for Bastille Day celebrations. His parents, Gisele and Germain Lyon, his wife, Veronique, her parents Francois and Christiane Locatelli and their grandson, Mickael Pellegrini, all died in the attack. Lyon is listed among dozens of witnesses, survivors and family members of victims who will testify in a Paris court later this month about the horrifying events of that night.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the massacre. However, French prosecutors said that while Bouhlel was inspired by extremist group propaganda, investigators found no evidence that IS orchestrated the attack.
Eight months before the Nice attack, on 13 November 2015, a 20-member team of battle-hardened Islamic State extremists had spread across Paris to carry out coordinated attacks on the room. Bataclan concerts, cafes and national stadiums, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds.
After nine months of trial, the lone survivor of the murder group terrorizing the French capital, Salah Abdeslam, was found guilty of murder in June and sentenced to life in prison without parole for the bloody attack. in the history of France.
The trial of the eight suspects in the Nice attack will take place in the same Paris courtroom as the proceedings against Abdeslam. French law stipulates that terror trials are held in the capital.
The proceedings will be televised live to the Acropolis Convention Center in Nice for family members and the public not traveling to Paris. The audio of the trial will also be available online, with a 30-minute delay.
Many of the survivors and mourning loved ones braced themselves to relive the traumatic events of the trial. For others, the proceedings – despite being far from the city still reeling from bloodshed and loss – are an opportunity to publicly recount the personal horrors they inflicted that night and listen to them. heard countless acts of courage, humanity, and kindness among strangers. .
With the perpetrator dead, few expect justice.
Audrey Borla, who has lost her twin sister, Laura, will travel to Paris to face a group of eight suspects. She wants to tell them how she’s survived the past six years without the woman she calls her “other half” and how she plans to live a full life for many years. even without her.
Borla said in an interview with France 3 TV station: “You took my sister out of my hands but you won’t make me stop living.”
“You won’t make me give up on life.”
Nicolas Vaux-Montagny reports from Paris. Oleg Cetinic contributed from Paris.