The first defendant to be heard by the court was the Franco-Tunisian Mohamed Ghraieb, 46, who appears free, under judicial supervision, and is one of the three defendants prosecuted for terrorist criminal association.

His questioning is due to continue until Friday.

His first day of interrogation was mainly devoted to his personality. His older sister and mother, who came from Tunisia, testified at the bar to proclaim his “innocence”. “My brother was legit, always respected the law,” said his older sister Jouda Ghraieb, a 53-year-old teacher, in mustard raincoat and dark pants, in impeccable French.

The family of Mohamed Ghraieb – teacher father, who died in 2020, bookseller mother – has always lived in “very comfortable conditions” in the upscale suburbs of Tunis and adhered to secular values, said Jouda Ghraieb.

Asked about the attacks in France in 2015 and 2016, she said she was “shocked” by these events. “It’s unacceptable, appalling,” she said, stressing that her family was “against violence, fanaticism and extremism”.

Mohamed Ghraieb, in jeans and a navy blue jacket, gray hair, was less talkative than his sister, to the point of annoying his lawyer William Bourdon who regretted his client’s sometimes too evasive answers. “On questions without stakes, on details, you seem to be a little tackling,” he scolded.

Thus, after having said during his police custody that he had met his wife for the first time in Tunisia, Mohamed Ghraieb maintained on Wednesday that he had met her in Nice.

This woman, Merle Immonen, of Finnish origin, mother of four daughters born from another union, must testify at the bar on Thursday.

For the rest, Mohamed Ghraieb succinctly explained “doing Ramadan, but not prayers”, having been a member of the UMP (party founded by Jacques Chirac), member of an association for the defense of animals or even having been attacked, “without knowing why”, when he was in prison by a radicalized prisoner.

He will be questioned more specifically about the facts on Friday.

An investigator from the anti-terrorist sub-directorate (Sdat), testifying on condition of anonymity, recalled the old links between Mr. Ghraieb, sometimes nicknamed Walid, and the Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the driver of the truck who deliberately ran into the crowd gathered on the evening of July 14 on the Promenade des Anglais.

The investigator notably recalled that there had been numerous telephone calls and text exchanges between the two men in the days and weeks preceding the attack.

Mr. Ghraieb also sought to contact Mr. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel on several occasions during the night of July 14 to 15. “Could that mean that Mr. Ghraieb was unaware of the planned Lahouaiej-Bouhlel attack?” Asks President Laurent Raviot. “Yes, clearly,” admits the investigator.

Mr. Ghraieb has always maintained that he never knew anything about the planned attack. At the very beginning of the trial, during a preliminary statement, he said he had been “trapped” by Lahouaiej-Bouhlel who left behind many clues to incriminate him. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had taken a photo of him in the truck he had just rented, just a few days before the attack.

“Terrorism, violence, it’s not me. It’s not a man, it’s a piece of garbage who did this, I don’t understand, I’m looking for answers too”, explained Mr. Ghraieb who , at the material time, was a night watchman in a hotel.

Freed under judicial supervision since 2020, he remained in pre-trial detention for three years. He faces 20 years in prison.