‘It was war’: Survivors of 2016 Nice attack describe experiences in court

'It was war': Survivors of 2016 Nice attack describe experiences in court

Eight people are on trial for helping the gunman, who drove a truck into the crowd killing 86

Victims memorial on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France.

Survivors of the 2016 Bastille day attack in Nice have described how the seafront was turned into a "war zone" when a gunman drove a heavy truck at high speed into the crowd gathered to watch fireworks in the French Riviera city.

"It was war, people were crushed, I saw a woman being run down with a baby in her arms," said Abdallah Kebaier, a retired maintenance worker, who was catapulted into the air by the truck and suffered seven broken ribs, head trauma and injuries to his liver and pancreas.

Giving evidence at a trial of seven men and one woman, Kebaier, 67, described the sense of confusion and panic as thousands who had gathered to watch fireworks on the seafront boulevard lined with palm trees noticed a heavy truck deliberately driving into the crowd, zigzagging and accelerating towards people for 2km along the esplanade.

The attack, which killed 86 people and injured more than 400, was the second most deadly massacre in peacetime France. It came eight months after the Paris attacks on bars, restaurants, the national stadium and Bataclan concert hall that killed 130 people and were claimed by Islamic State.

Kebaier, whose daughter was getting married that week, watched the fireworks display with his brother and cousin. They were crossing the promenade when the truck hit. "I found myself lying facedown on the ground, 100 metres from the truck," he said.

Kebaier's brother, Taoufik, a former electrician, told the court: "There was a deafening noise.

I ran, I fell, I was sandwiched in the middle of corpses, bodies, I'm not sure if they were dead or alive ... I couldn't understand how my brother was thrown so far away when he'd been walking beside me." He described the effect on the crowded seafront: "It was like a wheat field, mowed down."

Courtroom sketch of seven of the suspects.

Six years on, the brothers still have flashbacks of the dead strewn around them.

The truck driver, 31-year-old Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, was shot dead by police at the end of four minutes' drive as he began firing a semi-automatic weapon from the truck's cab.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but waited two days to do so, offering no proof that the attacker, who had a record of domestic violence and petty crimes, had direct contact with the group. Seven men and one woman are on trial for directly or indirectly helping Lahouaiej-Bouhlel obtain weapons, rent the truck or survey the route.

Kebaier, who is of Tunisian heritage, said it was important to stress in court that he was among a large number of Muslims hit in the attack - one-third of those killed on the seafront were Muslims - and that: "The Qur'an never said kill anyone, quite the contrary." He has travelled to meet the pope, stressing the importance of interfaith relations.

Marie-Claude Borla, 50, told the court she watched the fireworks with her husband and their twin 13-year-old daughters, Audrey and Laura.

As they walked down the promenade, Laura hugged her saying, "I love you Mum."

Borla said: "We were walking arm in arm when we saw the truck at a distance. People started screaming: 'The truck! The truck!' I saw things falling, I didn't understand it was bodies, I pushed my daughter to the side then suddenly she wasn't there."

Borla described feeling a stranger's body fall on her feet.

In shock, she jumped from the promenade on to the beach below, where Audrey was sheltering. Then - injured, covered in blood, with a ripped dress and no shoes - Borla dragged herself back up to the promenade shouting "Laura! Laura!" She went from corpse to corpse to see if she could find her. "It was like an open-air cemetery, there were so many bodies on the ground," she said.

The family only learned of Laura's death two days later.

Eight go on trial in France over Bastille Day truck attack in Nice Read more

The number of children killed and injured in the Nice attack was higher than in any other European massacre of recent years. A total of 15 children were killed, with the youngest two years old.

Mariam Al-Khodor, 44, who is Lebanese and lives in Germany, lost her daughter Salma, 18, in the attack. Salma had been on a five-day, end-of-term trip with her German school.

It was their last night.

She died on the seafront alongside a friend and a teacher. "They said Nice was safe," she told the court.

She described her devastation when the other children returned from the trip and she was given her daughter's suitcase. "She was still my little girl ... it's so unfair."

The trial continues until December.

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