PARIS (AP) — Eight people go on trial on Monday in a special French terrorism court accused of helping an attacker who drove a truck into a crowded beachfront on Bastille Day six years ago, killing 86 people.
During a planned two-and-half months of court proceedings in Paris, survivors and those mourning loved ones will recount the horrors inflicted in the southern French resort of Nice on the night of July 14, 2016.
The trial will be broadcast live to a convention center in Nice. The verdict is expected in December.
Thousands of locals and tourists had packed Nice's famed boardwalk on the Mediterranean coast that Thursday 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 bellow.
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 was 86, including 15 children and adolescents, while 450 others 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 murderous rampage on that hot summer night in 2016. 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.
The proceedings will be broadcast live to the Acropolis Convention Center in Nice for those victims' family members and general public not traveling to Paris. Audio of the trial will also be available online, with a 30-minute delay.
Surk reported from Nice, France.