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People gathered around flowers and candles placed in the road in front of Le Meridien hotel in Nice, France, for victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack in 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the truck attack that killed 84 people in Nice on France's national holiday. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

French Court Convicts Eight Indirect Accomplices in 2016 Vehicle-Borne Terrorism Attack

A French court convicted eight people for their involvement in a 2016 truck attack in Nice that left 86 people dead, Reuters reported.

On 14 July 2016, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel deliberately drove a 19-ton cargo truck into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day in the Riviera city of Nice, France. More than 500 people were injured or killed along a 1.2 mile stretch of the city’s seaside boulevard before the attacker was shot and killed by police.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but it offered no proof that the attacker had any direct contact with the group. Relatives of the attackers told the court that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was suffering from serious psychological disorders and was prone to domestic violence. They said that he became interested in Islam only weeks before the attack, and investigators claimed that he self-radicalized quickly by watching jihadist videos.

The incident—which followed the Charlie Hebdo attack and the bombing at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris—resulted in the extension of a state of emergency in France.

The court found the eight defendants—seven men and one woman—guilty of helping the perpetrator prepare for the assault as indirect accomplices. The two main defendants, Mohamed Ghraieb and Chokri Chafroud, were convicted of participating in a terrorist conspiracy and were sentenced to 18 years in prison, The New York Times reported. The other defendants were found guilty of lesser charges, including arms trafficking.

The Special Criminal Court in Paris handed down sentences that were more severe than prosecutors had requested, partially in an effort to help survivors find closure, Reuters reported.

Caroline Villani, who lost four relatives including her son in the attack, said that the court’s decision “won’t make my family come back, I’ll have to live with that until I did, but these are little victories that heal.”

While the jihadist terrorism scene in Europe has quieted down since 2016, modern jihadism continues worldwide, wrote Scott Stewart for Security Management in 2021.

“Since the fall of the IS caliphate, a great deal of shine was taken off its appeal and its claim to be an inexorable force guided by divine power,” Stewart explained. “Consequently, the number of IS-related grassroots jihadist terrorist attacks today outside of conflict zones is far lower than it was at the height of the Islamic State’s power and prestige. Still, grassroots jihadists will continue to pose a persistent threat for the foreseeable future.”

He added: “The lack of terrorist tradecraft also makes it difficult for grassroots jihadists to attack hard targets, so they tend to focus their attacks on soft targets such as crowds of people on the street. This means that security measures can be implemented to harden facilities and deter would-be attackers.”

“The frequency of jihadist terrorist attacks has been cyclical with discernible spikes and lulls,” Stewart said. “Key events have a large influence on the tempo of attacks, and there have been spikes in activity following events such as the 9/11 attacks, the publication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed, and the IS declaration of a caliphate. It is likely that the world will experience periods of increased jihadist activity in the future, and it will therefore be important to watch for events that resonate among the jihadist rank and file and that can serve as triggers for attacks.”

High-profile trials for terrorism attacks continue across Europe. In Belgium, proceedings against 10 men linked to the 2016 bombings in an airport and subway station are expected to last until the summer of 2023, the Times reported.