The evening of the attack of July 14, 2016, “I was on the Promenade but I did not hear any shots (…), I thought of firecrackers”, said, on the last day of his interrogation, Mr. Arefa, 27, one of the three defendants prosecuted for terrorist criminal association and the only one who incurs a sentence of life imprisonment because in a state of legal recidivism.
“I saw people in panic hiding under cars… But it was my brother’s birthday, we tried to continue the evening (…). We were trying to make the most of it” , continued the accused provoking some reactions on the benches of the civil parties.
“How can a Nice person say that?” asks a lawyer, outraged.
The accused who risks big tries since the beginning of the trial to show empathy with the victims. He admitted without difficulty having provided a pistol to Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the Tunisian author of the massacre which left 86 dead and more than 400 injured.
On the other hand, he categorically denies having had knowledge of the murderer’s intentions.
Faced with the potentially devastating effect of his client’s latest statements, his lawyer tries to get him to clarify his July 14 evening.
“With my two brothers we had not been together for three years (because of each other’s stays in prison, editor’s note) … We were happy”, explains Mr. Arefa, acknowledging that this speech “can hurt “the families of the victims.
The day after July 14, still ignorant of the massacre – “I had a phone without internet access”, he justifies himself – he goes with his brothers and friends to a beach in Juan-les-Pins . It was only in police custody, from July 16, that he learned of the attack and the name of its author.
“It was when I saw the photo presented by the police that I recognized Momo”, the name by which he knew Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel.
– “Lost the ball” –
In police custody, Mr. Arefa’s statements will often vary. “I was scared, I was in total panic,” he says.
President Laurent Raviot interrupts him. “I don’t mind that we lose the ball during police custody. Police custody is made for that,” he tempers.
The court has not finished with Mr. Arefa and is interested in the two text messages sent to him by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel a few minutes before the attack.
“Salam Ramzi (…), the gun you gave me yesterday is very good. So bring back five” extra, “it’s for Chokri (Chafroud) and his friends”, indicates one of the SMS.
An almost identical voice note, sent a few hours earlier, specified “Chokri and his friends are ready for next month, now they are at Walid”, the middle name of Mohamed Ghraieb, the third defendant dismissed for terrorist criminal association.
Was another attack planned for August 15?
Why did the attacker leave so many clues on an unlocked phone?
“The only hypothesis is that he tried to trap me. He tried to train me with him (…). I tried to scam him once (by offering him a dummy weapon, editor’s note ) and several times I spoke to him coldly. Perhaps I gave him the impression of despising him”, replies the accused.
“When I see the hatred that this person had against humanity, it may be a bit logical,” he continues without completely convincing.
Because another question torments the court. What was the Kalashnikov found in his basement supposed to be for?
Was it one of the five weapons that were to be used for the August 15 action mentioned by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel?
“It was a completely rusty weapon, a wreck”, defends Mr. Arefa by implicating the Albanian Artan Henaj, another defendant at the trial, who would have entrusted him, without his asking, with this “unsaleable kalach” .
Artan Henaj, in detention in connection with another case, is to be heard by the court from Thursday.