PARIS (AP) — A special French terrorism court on Monday opened the trial of eight people accused of helping a man who, on Bastille Day six years ago, plowed a heavy truck through crowds in a southern French resort town leaving 86 dead.
During the planned three and a half months of court proceedings in Paris, survivors and those mourning loved ones will recount the horrors inflicted along the beachfront of Nice on the night of July 14, 2016.
Veronique Marchand, whose husband was killed, said she’s still haunted by the attack.
“It’s this constant replay of the night in slow-motion, every detail of it,” she said in an interview at the courthouse. “I feel as if I’m watching this tape that was recorded and that it just keeps happening.”
Danielle Leechailler, who witnessed the attack, said she and other survivors want justice.
“The emotional damage has left a scar over the past 6 years but now we expect sanctions from the judicial system and to see the sentences enforced,” she said.
Seven of the eight accused were in court. The eighth is being tried in absentia. The chief judge told the court that he is in detention in Tunisia and that Tunisian authorities hadn’t responded to a French judicial request concerning him.
The verdict is expected in December. The proceedings will be broadcast live to the Acropolis Convention Center in Nice for those who don't travel to Paris. Audio of the trial will also be available online, with a 30-minute delay.
Thousands of locals and tourists had packed Nice's famed boardwalk on the Mediterranean coast that summer night to celebrate France's national day, strolling along the Promenade des Anglais with friends and family members, laughing and dancing on the beach just below.
Shortly after the end of a fireworks display, the truck careered through the crowds for two kilometers (1¼ miles) like a snow plow, hitting person after person. The final death toll included 15 children and adolescents, while 450 other people were injured. Of the dead, 33 were foreign nationals.
The attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was killed by police soon after.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the carnage. However, French prosecutors said that while Bouhlel had been inspired by the extremist group’s propaganda, investigators found no evidence that IS orchestrated the attack.
Investigators didn’t find evidence that any of the suspects in the current trial was directly involved in the carnage. Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian with French residency, is considered solely responsible for the deaths.
With the perpetrator dead, few expect to get justice.
“Our clients expect everything and nothing from the trial,” said Gerard Chelma, a lawyer for some victims’ families. “Some feel (the trial) will be useless. Other are hoping for convictions and as much attention as there was during the trial of the Paris attacks.”
Three suspects have been charged with terrorist conspiracy for alleged links to Bouhlel. Five others face other criminal charges, including for allegedly providing arms to the assailant. If convicted, they face sentences ranging from five years to life in prison.
Surk reported from Nice, France. AP journalist Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed.
This story has been corrected to show that the trial is expected to last 3 1/2 months, not 2 1/2.