“We tried to continue the evening”… An accused claims to have known nothing of the attack

On the evening of July 14, 2016, “I was on the Promenade but I didn’t hear any gunshots, I thought firecrackers”. Accused of having supplied a weapon to the author of the Nice attack, Ramzi Arefa assured this Wednesday before the special assize court of Paris that he had seen nothing and had not sought to learn about the massacre. perpetrated by a ram truck on the Promenade des Anglais. This Franco-Tunisian of almost 28 years is one of the three defendants prosecuted for association of terrorist criminals 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 take advantage of it as much as possible, ”continued the accused, provoking some reactions on the benches of the civil parties. “How can a Nice person say that? “Asks a lawyer, outraged.

At the beach, in Juan-les-Pins, the next day

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, author of the massacre which left 86 dead and more than 450 injured, but on the other hand categorically denies having had knowledge of his murderous 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. Because of each other’s stays in prison, “we had not been together for three years […] with my two brothers”, explains Ramzi Arefa. “We were happy,” he adds, acknowledging that his speech “can hurt” the families of the victims.

The day after July 14, still ignorant of the massacre because he had “a phone without Internet access”, he went 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. “Seeing the photo presented by the police, I recognized Momo”, the name under which he knew Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. Faced with investigators, his 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.

Another attack scheduled for August 15?

But the court has not finished with Ramzi Arefa and is also interested in the two text messages sent to him by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel a few minutes before the attack. “The gun you gave me yesterday is fine, so bring back five ‘extra,’ it’s for Chokri [Chafroud, un des autres accusés] and friends,” reads one of the posts. An almost identical voice note, sent a little earlier, specified “Chokri and his friends are ready for next month, now they are at Walid”, the middle name of Mohamed Ghraieb, the third tried 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 assumption is that he tried to frame me. He tried to train me with him. I tried to scam her once [en lui proposant une arme factice] and several times I spoke to him coldly. Maybe 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. 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 Ramzi Arefa, implicating the Albanian Artan Henaj, another defendant at the trial, who allegedly gave him, without his asking, this “unsaleable Kalash”. Artan Henaj, in detention in connection with another case, must be heard by the court from Thursday.

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