Black: Location of the family's campsite
Red: Location of the shootings
|Location||Near Chevaline, Haute-Savoie, France|
5 September 2012 |
c.15:45 CEST (UTC+02:00)
The Annecy shootings, also the French Alps shootings or the Chevaline killings, were the shootings on 5 September 2012 of a British family and a French citizen on the Route Forestière Domaniale de la Combe d'Ire near Chevaline, Haute-Savoie, near the southern end of Lake Annecy.
Four people were killed: an Iraqi-born British tourist named Saad al-Hilli, 50; his wife Iqbal, 47; her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, who held a Swedish passport; and French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45. The al-Hillis' two daughters both survived the attack. One, aged four, was hidden under the legs of her dead mother in the rear footwell for eight hours even while the gendarmerie were on the scene; she was only discovered by specialist forensic investigators. The elder daughter, aged seven, was shot in the shoulder and also suffered a head wound; she returned to the United Kingdom on 14 September 2012.
Police investigated al-Hilli's past in Iraq as an engineer on sensitive topics, as well as his work at the time of his death, as a potential motive for the attack. Al-Hilli's work in the UK involved nuclear and satellite technology, whilst Mollier was also probed to determine if he was the primary target of the attack.
In September 2017, after 5 years of investigation, French police said they had "no working theory" to explain the murders and no suspects. Veronique Dizot, the lead prosecutor, suggested that the family "may have been targeted randomly."
Description of the attack
The attack took place in a lay-by on the mountain-side road at about 15:45 CEST on 5 September 2012. 25 shots were fired in total. Initial reports stated only one semi-automatic pistol was fired, though it was later reported that full ballistics analysis is likely to disprove this.
The bodies were discovered by Brett Martin, a British ex-RAF pilot, who is a resident in France, while he was out riding his bicycle. He heard nothing of the shots. This might be because he was crossing the last river bridge just a few hundred metres from the murder location; the noise of the water easily masking the sound of gunfire. Al-Hilli's eldest daughter, seven-year-old Zainab, was the first victim he saw when he arrived on the scene. She was stumbling into the road and collapsed in front of the British family's BMW car.
Prior to the incident, the BMW was reversed sharply into the side of the lay-by, leaving marks which were still visible when the site was reopened to the public. When the car was found by Martin, the engine was still running and the car was in reverse gear, the rear wheels spinning in the loose sand. The doors were locked. The deceased in the car were each shot twice in the head.
The French cyclist killed near the car was Sylvain Mollier. It has been reported that he was shot seven times.
The investigation is being carried out by the municipal police force of Chambéry, together with the Institut de recherche criminelle de la gendarmerie nationale of the National Gendarmerie. On 10 September, the Royal Logistics Corps bomb disposal unit were called to the home of al-Hilli in Surrey after concerns were raised about items discovered during the police search, although the items under investigation were later described as "non-hazardous". The search did yield a Taser, an item that is illegal to possess in the UK.
A 54-year-old man was arrested on 24 June 2013 in Surrey in connection with the murders. Although unconfirmed by the police, some reports named the suspect as Zaid al-Hilli, the brother of Saad al-Hilli.
On 21 October 2013, BBC Panorama reported that a grey BMW X5 right hand drive 4x4 car was at the crime scene at the time of the murders, the driver of which may be a possible accomplice to the crime along with a motorcycle rider also spotted nearby. The motorcycle rider has been reported as having a goatee beard and an unusual helmet by French investigators. Panorama also found that Zaid al-Hilli had tried to create a false will for his father and to withdraw £2m from his father's bank account at Crédit Agricole Geneva in Switzerland. Zaid al-Hilli claimed he was not guilty of the shootings and has offered to take a lie detector test.
Police investigating the shootings are following several leads relating to the activities of Saad al-Hilli. They have stated that he could have been targeted over a contract he was working on for EADS. Connections to al-Hilli's previous work at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are also being investigated. There are considerations as to whether there was a family financial feud that may have led to a contract killing.
In October 2012, Swiss prosecutors stated al-Hilli had visited a bank in Geneva shortly before he was murdered. A leaked report revealed that Saad al-Hilli may have had access to bank accounts belonging to Saddam Hussein.
In January 2014, it was announced that there was insufficient evidence to bring a charge and bail was lifted.
It had been suggested that the target of the murders may have been Sylvain Mollier, instead of the al-Hilli family. A police source stated that Mollier, a local father of three who worked as a welder in a workshop at a subsidiary of Areva, "doesn't appear to have been exposed to nuclear secrets".
"Lone psychopath" theory
In October 2012, confidential police files on the case were leaked to a French newspaper, showing investigators believed the killings were carried out by "a lone and psychologically disturbed killer". One of the reasons given was that the killer used a pre-World War II Luger P06 semi-automatic pistol, a weapon unlikely to be used by a professional assassin.
In November 2013, two men broke into the property of a man and woman who owned and ran a camping site close to the village of Lathuile, just a few kilometres from Chevaline. The woman was shot dead with a handgun and the man was beaten and pistol whipped. The motive for the attack was unknown.
Arrest of local ex-policeman
On 18 February 2014, a 48-year-old man was arrested following the issue of an artist's impression of a man in a motorcycle helmet. Police removed several guns from his home. The man, living in the local village of Lathuile, and said to be a weapons collector, reportedly had been dismissed from the municipal police in June 2013. It is not clear whether the investigators thought he could be involved in the killings.
In 2015, the motorcyclist spotted nearby the incident, and sought by the police, was traced and ruled out of the inquiry as an innocent passer-by.
French Foreign Legionnaire
Since his suicide in June 2014, Patrice Menegaldo, an ex-French Foreign Legion soldier from Ugine has been positioned very high on the list of suspects. According to Éric Maillaud, the state Prosecutor: "The hypothesis at the top of the chain for the investigators is a local killing. We have a real suspect. I am referring to the Legionnaire from Ugine." Menegaldo had for seven years an affair with Mollier's sister and knew Mollier’s partner, Claire Schutz. Police assume that Menegaldo committed suicide because he thought of himself as being a suspect, even though police admitted not to have had him as a primary suspect when they spoke to him in April 2014.
Nordahl Lelandais hypothesis
Police are looking into whether a suspected serial killer could be behind the unsolved Alps murders. Nordahl Lelandais, a 34-year-old ex-soldier, is the main suspect in two other cases in the area.
One relates to the disappearance and death of a eight-year-old girl, Maëlys de Araujo in August 2017 at a wedding where the suspect was a guest; the other to the killing of a hitchhiking soldier in April of the same year.
Lelandais, has been in custody since September 2017 as part of the investigation over the disappearance and death of Maëlys in the Chambéry region of south-eastern France. He has been charged with kidnapping and murder of the girl.
Prosecutors also charged Lelandais with the killing of Arthur Noyer, a 24-year-old soldier, who vanished after hitchhiking from a disco in Chambéry on April 12 2017, Investigators probing the Maëlys case found that Lelandais' cell phone had been in the same area at the same time as Arthur Noyer. Lelandais' black Audi A3 car was identified in the area on surveillance cameras, prosecutor Thierry Dran told a news conference, and an analysis of his phone found he had looked up "decomposition of a human body" on the internet.
"We are going to look at all the disturbing disappearances which have taken place in this region," Chambéry Prosecutor Thierry Dran told reporters. When asked about the Annecy shootings, Mr Dran told Le Parisien: "Given this new development, we will be verifying (any connections), and that will naturally be done, to rule out or include (the suspect in the investigation). It would be wrong not to."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Obviously the faster we can get to the bottom of what happened, the better." He also said, "I have spoken to the British ambassador in France and consular staff are working very hard so that we do everything we can... and to find out what happened in this very tragic case."
French President François Hollande said "I expressed my emotion earlier today to the British people in relation to the terrible deaths. Both the French and the British family have been impacted by this terrible event and we will do our utmost to find the perpetrators, to find the reasons behind that event. Our police are co-operating and everything that is found will be shared."
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