Five years on, Nice remains haunted by memory of Bastille Day truck attack
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For most French people, Bastille Day is synonymous with military pomp and parties, but in the southern city of Nice the country’s national holiday also conjures up visions of horror.
On Wednesday, the Mediterranean city will pause to mark five years since a man drove a 19-tonne truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day on the waterfront, killing 86 people.
Dozens of nationalities were among the victims who were out to enjoy a fireworks show on the palm-fringed Promenade des Anglais with friends and family when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel struck.
The Tunisian-born assailant, who is believed to have been spurred by jihadist propaganda, was shot dead by police after a two-kilometre rampage.
Fifteen of his victims were minors, with the youngest aged just two-and-a-half.
At the city’s Lenval hospital, around 300 children are still being monitored by psychiatrists for the trauma suffered from that night, with around 100 needing regular consultations.
“Five years on, we still have patients who have recurring nightmares, which are flashbacks to the attack,” Florence Askenazy, head of the service, told AFP.
“These are primary school children who witnessed severed limbs and other terrible things when they were little, who have nightmares about heads being cut off and trucks coming from all directions,” she explained.
People of all ages who were among the 30,000-strong crowd on the Promenade des Anglais find themselves triggered by events that recall the chaos and bloodshed there, including fireworks, large gatherings, or trucks.
Another attack in Nice last October, in which three people were stabbed to death in a church, saw many former patients return for psychiatric care at Lenval hospital after they were troubled by the news, Askenazy explained.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean Castex will visit the city for a ceremony at the site of the only existing memorial for the victims, a fountain located in a municipal garden set back from the seafront promenade.
Accompanied by the families of the deceased and Nice’s mayor Christian Estrosi, Castex will be guest of honour for the commemorations that will see 86 doves released as a sign of peace.
Later in the evening, city authorities have organised a concert and at 10:34 pm precisely, the time of the start of the rampage, 86 beams of light will illuminate the Mediterranean waterfront to honour the dead.
Many families who lost relatives and loved ones, or saw them maimed or mentally scarred, say they are still struggling to come to terms with their loss.
A government compensation fund has offered payouts for a total of 83 million euros (100 million dollars) to around 2,000 people, including the injured, the families of the deceased, and people with psychological problems.
Another roughly 400 people are yet to receive a final payout because their medical condition has not yet stabilised, according to the fund.
Though the financial support is welcome, some campaigners want more to be done to remember the victims and for those accused of playing a part in the carnage to be held to account.
Disagreements over the design and location of a larger, more public tribute to the dead have held up the construction of a memorial.
“Personally I wanted it to be on the promenade. Why would you put it anywhere else?” said Bruno Razafitrimo, who lost his wife Mino. “There was a massacre over two kilometres, so just put it in the middle.”
The wheels of justice are also turning slowly, with the trial of alleged accomplices to the attack set to start in Paris only in November 2022.
Victims’ groups have also been frustrated by delays with the legal investigation into security arrangements at the time, which would seek to determine whether there was any official negligence.
There remain questions about how the driver was able to access the promenade so easily at a time when France was at its highest security alert level because of a series of attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.
For others, the grieving process has not been completed.
Thierry Vimal, whose 12-year-old girl died in the attack, wants proof that organs supposedly removed from his daughter during a post-mortem and then sealed as part of the judicial investigation really belong to her.
He has appealed to the French human rights office to try to force the authorities to furnish him with DNA evidence before they return the remains to him.
“How do you want me to move on when my daughter has still not been buried?” he told AFP.
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