French Terrorist Trial: Survivors of Nice Attack Hope for Answers | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

In July 2016, a terrorist turned Nice’s seaside Promenade des Anglais into a place of horror when he drove a truck into a crowd of 14 July fireworks attendees. Now a court case could help survivors of the attack cope with the pain.

Like Patrick Prigent, a municipal policeman who was off duty that day.

Walking along the seven-kilometre-long Sunny Pedestrian Strip recently, he recalled how he narrowly escaped the truck.

“I happened to be under a pergola right here, which was too low for the truck to pass. Over there, there were some palm trees which were also in the way of the vehicle. safe zone,” he added. the 60-year-old told DW.

Prigent had come to the fireworks display with some friends he had lost sight of at the start of the attack. As he followed the path of the truck to look for them, he became aware of the extent of the terror.

An “unbearable” spectacle

“Everyone to my left had been killed. Some people were as flat as my two joined hands. It was unbearable. see me,” he said.

The attacker, a 31-year-old Tunisian national, killed 86 people that day. More than 400 were injured. He himself will not be judged. The police shot him that night. Investigators believe he radicalized without being in direct contact with the terrorist group “Islamic State” which claimed responsibility shortly after the attack.

Patrick Prigent survived the terrorist attack but it scarred him mentally

Prigent and his friends escaped unscathed. Physically, that’s it. Once the shock passed, the policeman began to feel the psychological impact of what he had experienced. Since then, he has been undergoing therapy.

“I first immersed myself in work for a year until I couldn’t take it anymore. I was put on sick leave the following year and barely left the house. At a moment, I drowned my sorrows in alcohol”, he explained.

Prigent eventually got better. He has now, six years after the attack, found a new balance in life and is working part-time. But his life will never be the same again, he says.

Prigent suffers from “survivor syndrome”

“In my work as a municipal police officer, I can no longer patrol, I can only do office work. The slightest noise, like a skateboarder behind me, makes me panic. I have become hypersensitive,” he said. added. Explain.

Like so many others who experience terrorist attacks or terrible accidents, Prigent suffers from what is called “survivor syndrome”.

“Since then, I wonder why I’m alive and not dead like the others. I feel guilty. It makes life a struggle.”

“It’s like there’s a snake inside me, which sometimes bites me and makes me cry,” he added.

This suffering will take center stage during the four-month trial in Paris and will be broadcast live in a dedicated room in Nice. More than 800 civilian plaintiffs – mostly survivors or family members of victims – will have the opportunity to explain their version of the day’s events over the course of several weeks.

People on a beach lined with flags

The Promenade des Anglais is extremely popular with tourists

“It will be an important moment for many victims,” Antoine Megie, a political scientist at the University of Rouen in northern France, told DW.

It is part of a scientific project financed by the State which brings together 15 researchers who analyze the so-called historical trials of France, that is to say the trials which have been filmed for the archives. These include cases of genocide, crimes against humanity but also terrorist events such as the trials on the Paris attacks in January and November 2015 and now the Nice trial, which will be the 15th trial filmed for French archives. In January 2015, terrorists killed 17 people in attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a Jewish supermarket and in the suburb of Montrouge. In November of the same year, a terrorist commando massacred 130 people during attacks on a football stadium, restaurants and bars and the Bataclan concert hall.

The trial is a symbol of democracy

“The court cases against terrorism in France are showcases of the trauma that such attacks cause within our society – they are therefore highly political and emblematic,” Megie explained. “Authorities [want to] emphasize that our justice system is democracy’s answer to barbaric terrorism,” he added.

This does not mean that the court will be particularly lenient. France has one of the strictest anti-terrorism laws in the world, which has been further strengthened since 2015.

“And yet, terrorism trials have so far managed to maintain a balance – the defense has had its share of speaking time and the sentences have been fair and impartial by the standards of the European Court of Human Rights” , said Megie.

Eight people – seven men and one woman – will now have to be tried. Three of them are suspected of being part of a group that was actively preparing a terrorist attack and of being aware that the attacker was a supporter of violent jihad. Two of them could receive up to 20 years in prison, the third a life sentence. The five other defendants, one of whom is still at large, risk between five and ten years in prison for having participated in the preparation of a crime and for illegal possession of weapons.

Police officer Prigent hopes for answers

Agent Prigent, who will also testify in court, will follow the proceedings closely.

“I expect the judges to convict these people, fairly, for what they did,” he said.

“But I also need the trial to give me answers.” One of the answers he seeks is why the police are still unable to trace the location of the attacker for half an hour on the day of the attack. “All of this will help me develop my personal resilience,” he explained.

The trial will not mark the end of Patrick’s suffering – the terrible memories of what happened that night will stay with him. But he hopes the procedure will mark the next step on the road to recovery.

Edited by: Rob Mudge

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