Police search for killer’s escape route

Police are combing through security camera footage in an attempt to identify the escape route taken after a quadruple murder at a French Alps beauty spot, in an investigation that has thrown up more questions than answers.

As the inquiry grows in complexity – the victims had direct links to four different countries – police in southeastern France have still been unable to trace a dark-coloured 4×4 vehicle spotted near the crime scene.

Officers have also searched woodland and remote hikers' huts for any trace of the killer.

An unnamed British man who alerted police to the shootings is said to have seen a car, and a motorcycle a few minutes later.

"That does not mean that this is necessarily the car involved," prosecutor Eric Maillaud cautioned however.

At first glance, the small parking area – about an hour on foot through forest along a narrow potholed road from the tiny village of Chevaline – would seem the perfect place to commit a crime.

But such a location would also have limited the possible escape routes.

The 'car park' is in fact an alcove-like space of about five by 12 metres (18×40 feet) edged on both sides by steep forested hillside.

Four bunches of flowers next to a pile of stones and some faint chalk marks on the road are now the only sign of the tragic events of last Wednesday.

Three members of a British-Iraqi family on a camping holiday on the shores of Lake Annecy and a local cyclist were found with two gun shots each in the head.

Saad al-Hilli, his wife Ikbal, from Surrey in southern England, and her mother all died.

The couple's two young daughters survived and police are still waiting to interview the elder, aged seven, who they hope will be able to describe what happened after she came out of a coma.

Just ahead of the car park is a road barrier – part of it now removed – which authorities say was not locked at the time of the killings.   

Beyond, a track leads off in one direction while to the left the road veers upwards in a hairpin bend.

Across the road, a stream runs along the bottom of a ravine with the terrain again climbing steeply on the other side.

For any assassin, an escape by road would have posed a high risk of being spotted by a walker or cyclist resulting in them being intercepted before reaching a main road.

The scene of the shooting is about 15 minutes' drive via Chevaline to a road leading to the resort town of Annecy and other major routes.

Indeed, the fourth victim, French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, is thought to have been killed after stumbling across the crime.

Although paved, the road from Chevaline is narrow and winding and it would not have been possible to drive at high speed, increasing the chance of a witness being able to give a detailed description.

In the other direction, paved road continues from the spot for about three kilometres before becoming a track for a further 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles).

Another two kilometres of paved road then leads to the village of Jarsy and another main road.

From here, it is only around 60 kilometres (40 miles) to the Swiss border, at which there are no passport controls, and little more to Geneva and its international airport.

On foot, meanwhile, any escape would have been arduous and taken many hours.

Maps at the spot put the time needed to cover a distance of only 800 metres as the crow flies at six hours by forest path due to the circuitous route.

"Anyone who tried to escape through the forest would be stupid because they would have risked becoming encircled," Arnot Communal, a farmer who also runs some hikers' huts, told AFP by telephone.

"The police came here but we have not seen or heard anything except the police helicopter. That (an escape on foot) would surprise me very much," he added.

For now, investigators are pinning their hopes on seven-year-old survivor Zainab al-Hilli who has just emerged from a medically-induced coma to help her recover from a fractured skull.

Officers regard her as the key witness after younger sister Zeena, four, was unable to give any information. But it is not yet known how her injuries may have affected her ability to recall the horrific events of last week.

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French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.