Black: Location of the family's campsite
Red: Location of the shootings
|Location||Near Chevaline, Haute-Savoie, France|
|Date||5 September 2012
≈15:45 CEST (UTC+02:00)
|Weapons||Luger P06 7.65-mm (parabellum) semi-automatic pistol|
The Annecy shootings, also the French Alps shootings or the Chevaline killings, refers to 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.
A potential motive for the attack that is being investigated is Al-Hilli's past in Iraq as an engineer on sensitive topics, as well as his work at the time of his death. Al-Hilli's work in the UK involved nuclear and satellite technology, whilst Mollier, who also worked in the nuclear industry, is also being probed as he may have been the primary target of the attack.
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. 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 victims of the shooting were:
- Saad al-Hilli, 50, computer engineer, deceased. Living in Claygate south of London, he worked for Surrey Satellite Technology in Guildford, Surrey.
- Iqbal al-Hilli, 47, dentist, deceased.
- Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, deceased.
- Zainab al-Hilli, 7, seriously injured.
- Zeena al-Hilli, 4, physically unharmed.
- Sylvain Mollier, 45, a welder (not metallurgist, as reported previously) deceased. He worked in the nuclear industry at Areva Cezus in nearby Ugine. He was the father of three children.
The investigation is being carried out by the police force (gendarmerie) 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 it 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 Saad Al-Hilli 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 also 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, and the Swiss bank account has been frozen. Also, 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 al-Hilli family. Later reports state that Mollier worked as a welder, without confidential nuclear information (security clearance is unclear), so he was not suspected as a likely target of such a murder.
"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.
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.
- British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "We obviously have discussed the tragic case, the terrible killings, of the British family near Annecy. Consular staff are working very hard so that we do everything we can to help those poor children. We will stay in close contact. All the support that the British Government and the Foreign Office can give to those two children, of course we will make sure they get that help, whether in France or whether there is extra help we need to send to make sure they have everything they need."
- French President Francois 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."
- John Lichfield (9 September 2012). "The massacre in the Alps". The Independent (London). Retrieved 10 September 2012.
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- Chilling similarities: Massacre of British family in French Alps echoes mass shooting of three Brits in same region 60 years ago; Tourists Sir Jack Drummond, wife Anne and daughter Elizabeth were all shot dead beside their car in the French Alps in August 1952, Daily Mirror
- Huffington Post
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- Flynn, Sean (2015) How To Get Away With (the Perfect) Murder, GQ, September 2015
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- BBC Panorama Murder in the alps, one hour program
- Steven Swinford (9 September 2012). "France shooting: was Saad Al-Hilli assassinated over secret defence contract?". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 10 September 2012.
- Nuclear link to French Alps massacre: Murdered Saad al-Hilli worked at top-secret British lab, Mirror
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- Lichfield, John (18 February 2014). ""Hill-billy" former policeman arrested for questioning about al-Hilli massacre". The Independent (London). Retrieved 19 February 2014.
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- Hayden Smith (6 March 2015). "Alps Massacre: Mystery of missing motorcyclist solved, two years later". The Independent. Retrieved 12 March 2015.