On its national holiday, France remembers the victims of the Nice attack. On July 14, 2016, a terrorist drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day. The survivors are still suffering.
This year, there’ll be no fireworks along the beach promenade, as is the tradition on Bastille Day. Instead, there’s a mass, a memorial with President Emmanuel Macron and an evening concert to express the sorrow still felt by all the residents of Nice.
Last year, the Tunisian-born Frenchman Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove his truck into crowds of revelers on the Boulevard des Anglais. The attack lasted only a few minutes, but killed 86 people, including many children. Authorities still don’t know what prompted him to carry out the attack. Family members of the victims and survivors blame the previous French government for a lack of security measures.
The scars that won’t heal
Most of the more than 400 people injured in the Nice attack have now recovered, though some have lasting damage from their wounds. Between 10 and 20 patients are still in treatment, according to Pascal Boileu from the local university hospital.
But around 3,000 family members and people who witnessed the attack are still in psychiatric treatment. Among them are many children, who can only slowly process the shock they experienced. Survivors say they suffer from sleep disorders and panic attacks. For many, the anniversary is the first chance they’ve had to return to the Boulevard des Anglais to participate in the memorial events. Many others have turned down the invitation from President Macron to attend.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve had contact with many of those affected, in preparation for the memorial events on July 14. We spoke with 70 people, and three told us that they wouldn’t find it helpful to meet the president,” said Sophia Seco from FENVAC, an organization representing the victims.
As is the case after other terror attacks in France, there’s also anger over the slow pace of victim compensation on the part of the state. Only 25 of the promised 300 million euros ($342 million) have been paid out.
After filing an application, victims are given an advance payment of between 2,500 and 5,000 euros, said Seco. “Before the compensation can be paid in full, the person in question has to be healthy again, or at least recovered.” Only then can the severity of any lasting damage be assessed and a final sum allocated. “Some people are happy to even be receiving any money, others say it’s far too little. But no amount can compensate someone for the loss of a daughter,” she said.
Cooperation with the government has improved in the meantime, even if the point of contact for the victims has been moved to a location on the outskirts of the city that’s hard for many to reach.
One year on, French security officials have created a mountain of files. The investigative report comprises some 80,000 pages, and includes reports from criminal researchers, hundreds of eyewitness accounts, and analysis of the perpetrator’s laptop and mobile phone.
What’s missing are clues connecting Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel to command structures in Syria or Iraq of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS), even though the terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack. The lack of evidence linking IS and Lahouaiej-Bouhlel explains why he was not on security officials’ radar.
The authorities are working on the assumption that it was a case of self-radicalization. The Nice attack was the first incident where a terrorist followed the call of former IS spokesman Mohammed al-Adnani. In 2014, he encouraged supporters to carry out attacks in Europe, and expressly called on them to use vehicles as weapons.
Nine suspects are still under investigation on suspicion of aiding in the attack. They are local contacts of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, accused of crimes such as supplying him with a gun.
Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s body was released by the French medical examiner last week and repatriated to Tunisia for burial. No explanation was offered as to why it took so long for French authorities to release the body. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was shot and killed by police who closed in on his truck after he ended his rampage.