Investigators from across Europe will hold a meeting in Holland next week hoping to make a breakthrough in the quest to find those responsible for the murder of a British-Iraqi family and a French cyclist in the Alps last year.
Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, from Surrey and grandmother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, who lived in Sweden, were all gunned down in their car on September 5th not far from the town of Annecy. French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, was also killed nearby. The al-Hilli's two daughters – seven-year-old Zeinab, and four-year-old Zeena – survived the attack.
Just over six months down the line and despite dozens of detectives from France and the UK working on the case, the killer or killers have not been found.
Speaking to The Local on the eve of what could be a key meeting, Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud admitted their manhunt may never track down the murderers, but it was still too early to know.
“Of course it is possible we will never find them, but it’s too early to conclude that,” Maillaud said. “The investigation is only six months old, which in terms of police inquiries is a very short period of time.”
“It’s out of the question that we will be thinking like that now.”
Case is advancing
Next week’s gathering at The Hague will see detectives and judges pore over information gathered in both France and the UK as well as Sweden and Spain, where al-Hilli’s father had lived before his death. The findings from a probe in Switzerland – where Saad al-Hilli had bank accounts – will also be discussed.
Maillaud said there were still around 40 French investigators working on the case, who regularly make trips across the Channel to liaise with their British counterparts in Surrey.
But since the early days of the police probe, there appears to have been no major breakthrough in the case, with detectives still struggling to even pin down a possible motive for the murders.
However, Maillaud told The Local the case was advancing.
“There’s no major advancement to report, but the case is not at a dead end either. It is always moving forward.”
The Hague meeting will be held under the aegis of Eurojust, the European Union’s judicial cooperation body, and will be attended by the two French judges appointed to the case.
“After six months we need to get together around one table and discuss the developments in the case,” Maillaud said.
“The meeting will allow investigators to go over all the information gathered. We hope they will gather as much information as needed to advance the inquiry,” he added.
Prosecutor Eric Maillaud (centre) Photo:AFP
Difficulties in international probe
With so many police forces involved in trying to dig out clues as to why the family may have been targeted, the investigation has proved problematic at times for Maillaud.
He recently complained about a “clash of cultures” after US officials reportedly refused a request for them to hand over potentially crucial information stored on internet servers on the other side of the Atlantic.
“It’s certainly more difficult to manage than if it was just in one country with one police force and one legal system involved,” he said.
“I don’t want to criticize another country's legal system, but the differences mean everything takes more time and cooperation is extremely important.”