Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nice: what happened in front of the Hotel Negresco?

The famous Negresco hotel is situated right in the middle of the two locations I featured in the last two blog entries, the Westend hotel and Point Gambetta. There are contradictory clues about what happened on the street in front of the Negresco when the truck passed by, and this blog post is a compilation of these clues.

The location was mentioned at first by chief prosecutor Francois Molins on July 15th. According to the Telegraph he said
"the terrorists fired several rounds at three police officers, who were outside l'hotel Negresco. The police officers followed the lorry which managed to go another 300metres. They managed to neutralise him by shooting by the Palais de la Medinterranee."
This quote is not 100% correct and omits a detail - Molins said that the officers at the Negresco shot back at Bouhlel before pursuing the truck:
"Le terroriste a tiré à plusieurs reprises sur trois policiers, à hauteur de l'hôtel Negresco. Les policiers ont répliqué et ont poursuivi le camion, qui a cependant réussi à rouler encore sur 300 mètres.
Les policiers sont parvenus à le neutraliser par des tirs à hauteur du Palais de la Méditerranée."  (Source)
More details on the shootout are not available. Just to the contrary, a timeline allegedly compiled by Sandra Bertin of the Nice municipal police and leaked to the media doesn't mention any incident at the Negresco, thereby suggesting that no shootout happened at all: 
Vingt-deux heures trente-quatre minutes et trente-six secondes : visualisons que le véhicule se dirige alors vers la chaussée qui est emplie de piétons, en faisant de nouveau une embardée. Ce décroché survient à hauteur de l’intersection Promenade des Anglais / Rue CRONSTADT---
Visualisons à vingt-deux heures trente-quatre minutes et trente-sept secondes que le véhicule qui a emprunté la chaussée se retrouve parmi une foule très dense et que de nouveau de multiples embardées sont réalisées pour tenter de faucher le maximum de personnes.
Vingt-deux heures trente-quatre minutes et quarante-neuf secondes visualisons que le véhicule emprunte de nouveau le trottoir, en poursuivant toujours sa progression en direction de l’Est et en fauchant au passage des dizaines de piétons ainsi qu’un stand de marchandises ; le véhicule se situe alors face au 27 promenade des Anglais.  
A simple calculation shows that according to this timeline, the truck must have passed the Negresco at 22:34:44 with a speed of at least 45 km/h. Not only is a shootout not mentioned, it seems also unconceivable that Bouhlel steered the truck, running over people with 45 km/h and simultaneously shot at the police.

Moreover, Sandra Bertin, the alleged author of the timeline, seems to contradict herself by saying in an interview to the Journal Du Dimanche:
Le poids-lourd se retrouve finalement face aux policiers nationaux, qui tirent et le neutralisent. Il est 22h34. 
So the truck and its driver were "neutralized" at 22:34 by shots of policemen. This matches Molins' statement that there was a shootout at the Negresco, because the only other shootings happened in front of the Westminster Hotel at 22:35 (according to the said timeline) and at the final position in front of the Hyatt Hotel, which happened not earlier than 22:36.

I have stressed the dubious (Le Monde: confusing) nature of this timeline in the previous blog entries, and the omitted Negresco incident certainly increases this impression. It has still not been confirmed by Sandra Bertin or any other spokesperson of the municipal police, so the conjecture that it was not written by her is absolutely justified.

The title photo is from the intersection with the Rue de Rivoli, right at the Negresco. It shows a demolished street lamp, indicating that some form of accident happened here. A video taken from the sidewalk in front of the Negresco shows a police car with blue light across the street. 

The video and the snaphot are too blurry to say what exactly is going on there, but the footage certainly indicates that something extraordinary did happen at this location. The truck might also have lost its front plate right here.

Evie and Tim Timotheou from Adelaide, Australia, might have witnessed the incident at the Negresco. They resided in the Westend Hotel, which is very close. They heard a "thud" or "big bang" and then, after a few seconds, gun shots.
Then, "I heard an almighty thud and I wondered what it was," retail sales manager Evie tells WHO. "Seconds later I heard gunshots. We saw people running in different directions." (Source)
"We’re probably about 20 metres away and the whole promenade is now in lockdown. We were on the promenade, the fireworks were going for about half an hour and as soon as the fireworks finished, we started walking back to our hotel room and literally there’s a big ‘bang’ — probably about 30 seconds later there were gunshots." (Source)
Which gunshots did the couple refer to? Probably not from the Hyatt scene, which is 250 meters away - the Timotheous claim it was only 20 meters. There was also no "almighty thud" before the police started to shoot at the standing truck. For similar reasons, the two shots from the police at the Westminster hotel, as documented in the Gutjahr video, don't come into consideration. A shootout at the Negresco however makes sense because it is in the direct vicinity of the Westend, and the thud might have been caused by the truck when he rammed the street lamp.

Finally it should be noted that the truck was detected on surveillance footage of July 12th and 13th in front of the Negresco. On both days, Bouhlel stopped there and activated the hazard lights for a while before moving on. This seems to indicate that the Negresco played an important role in his plan.

Bottom line: there is quite a lot of evidence that the truck was stopped by the national police at the Negresco, followed by a shootout - and that it moved on afterwards. But officials are cloaking the incident in secrecy - for how long?