French court sentences 8 to 2016 truck attack in Nice

Photos and names of 86 victims of truck attack on July 14, 2016 Monument on the Rue des Anglais in Nice, France, August 29.Eric Gaillard/Reuters

A French court on Tuesday found seven men and a woman to have played a role in a 2016 truck rampage in the Riviera city of Nice that killed 86 people, in a verdict aimed at ending a bloody chapter in French history.

The attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was shot dead by police after causing damage and chaos on the 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) Croisette in Nice, where families had been celebrating Bastille Day, the French national holiday.

The attack came just eight months after Islamic militants launched deadly attacks on Paris’s Bataclan concert hall and France’s National Stadium, striking one of the country’s most famous tourist attractions and shocking the country and beyond.

The 2015 and 2016 massacres, France’s worst bloodshed since World War II, were followed by multiple attacks claimed by Islamist militants, none of that magnitude.

The Paris court handed down harsher sentences than prosecutors had demanded, as survivors struggled to find the fact that no accused was charged with participating in the attack or even as an accomplice.

Instead, they were found guilty of supplying arms to Lahouaiej Bouhlel and being aware of his radicalization, but not actually helping him plan and carry out the attack.

The court found the main accused, Mohamed Ghraieb and a friend of Bouhlel, guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

“It’s not going to bring my family back, I have to live with this until I die, but these are small victories that can heal,” Caroline Villani, who has lost four loved ones, told , including a son who is about to turn 17. Reuters.

Ghraieb’s lawyer said the court’s sentence was “exceptionally harsh”.

“It’s not because of public opinion and accusers’ expectations that you have to give them punishment,” Vincent Brengas said. “(Ghraieb) didn’t sell weapons, he didn’t fund the operation, he didn’t provide logistical support, so why should he be condemned?”

The judge also found two other defendants, Chokri Chafroud and Ramzi Arefa, accused of helping Bouhlel acquire weapons and trucks, belonged to a terrorist organization. They were jailed for 18 and 12 years respectively.

The other five were sentenced to between two and eight years in prison.

Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the rampage in Nice days after it, did not provide any evidence that the attacker, who has a domestic violence and petty crime record, had any direct links to the group.

Lahouaiej Bouhlel, described by neighbors as a “scary” man with a tense personality, was given a six-month suspended sentence a few months ago for throwing a wooden pallet at another driver during a road rage incident.

The verdict can be appealed.

Since 2016, France has tightened anti-terrorism laws and increased surveillance of suspected militants, although human rights groups have also criticized the legislation.

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