A French court on Tuesday convicted eight people charged in connection with a truck attack more than six years ago by an Islamic State sympathizer that killed 86 people celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera city of Nice.
The judge’s verdict followed 3 1/2 months of sometimes heart-wrenching testimony from survivors of the 2016 attack, who during the trial described the horrors and carnage they witnessed that Thursday summer night and the impact on their lives since.
The driver of the truck that plowed into crowds watching fireworks, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, was killed by police the night of the attack.
The eight defendants, seven men and one woman, were convicted of helping him orchestrate a terrorist attack. The judge gave them prison sentences ranging from two to 18 years. Prosecutors had acknowledged not all of them had a clear connection to terrorism or knew what Lahouaiej-Bouhlel planned.
The pair most closely associated with Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, Mohamed Ghraeib and Chokri Chafroud, were convicted of terror charges and handed the longest sentences of 18 years.
The prosecution said both had had “an intense relationship” with Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. Ghraieb had known the attacker for 15 years, attended the same gym and haf 1,278 telephone communications with him in one year.
Ghraieb’s lawyer, Vincent Brengarth, said his client would appeal.
Attack survivors reacted positively to the judge’s verdict.
“I am satisfied to see that the two main defendants have been sentenced to 18 years in prison, even if it is nothing compared to what we have experienced,” said survivor Laurence Bray. “This verdict is a relief. Now, there will be a big void.”
“It won’t bring my family back, my mom, my son, but it’s a small victory that feels good,” Caroline Villani, another survivor, said.
Others defendants who were convicted on Tuesday were said to know the perpetrator’s plans more vaguely, such as Ramzi Arefa. He was convicted of selling the attacker a weapon while allegedly not knowing his terrorist intentions. Arefa received a 12-year prison sentence.
The trial was painful for survivors and victims’ families. Some were able to come to Paris for the proceedings, but many watched on a secured online site or at a special viewing center set up near the Nice beachfront.
Among the victims, 33 were foreign citizens and 15 were children. More than 2,400 people are civil parties to the trial.
On July 14, 2016, thousands of people had packed Nice’s famed boardwalk on the Mediterranean coast to celebrate France’s national holiday. In 4 minutes and 17 seconds, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel rammed his 19-ton truck at full speed into a crowd of families, tourists and others on the picturesque Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 and leaving 450 others injured.
While investigators found Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had vocalized support for the Islamic State group, they found no clear proof of his links to IS operatives. The group was active in Syria and Iraq at the time.
The truck massacre followed deadly attacks in Paris at the Bataclan theater and other sites in France and Belgium orchestrated by the extremist group.