Alps murders: Police probe Romanian link

Police investigating the murder of a British-Iraqi family at Annecy in the French Alps last summer are probing a possible Romanian connection, as mystery surrounds the target of calls made to a phone in the eastern European country.

Alps murders: Police probe Romanian link
Flowers placed at the scene near Chevaline in the French Alps where the British Iraqi family were gunned down along with a French cyclist. Photo: AFP

Police probing the murder of a British-Iraqi family in the French Alps last year are looking into telephone calls to Romania made from the phone of the brother of one of the victims, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation said Monday.

Annecy Prosecutor Eric Maillaud said Romanian authorities had been asked to help establish who Zaid al-Hilli, the brother of Saad al-Hilli, had apparently been calling but they had not been able to identify the numbers.

"There were calls made from the phone of Saad al-Hilli's brother to Romania," Maillaud told AFP. "A formal request for assistance was made to Romania several months ago but so far it has not produced anything."

Maillaud stressed that the Romania link was not being treated as a major new lead.

"It is simply that we can leave no stone unturned," he said. "This is part of the masses of data we are gathering month after month.

"We know calls were made to Romania but we do not know who was at the other end of the line or why the calls were made."

Maillaud has in the past mooted the possibility of the shooting having been the work of a "low-cost killer" from eastern Europe, although he has always stressed the lack of any firm evidence to back up that theory.

Maillaud's team believe that Saad al-Hilli was embroiled in a dispute with his brother over a family inheritance which could have provided a motive for the murder.

According to Maillaud, Saad and Zaid's father wrote two draft wills, one of which left Saad with nothing and one which envisaged a fair split of assets
worth several million euros.

Zaid al-Hilli denies any feud with his brother. British police have spoken to him as part of their inquiries but have given no indication that they consider him a suspect.

Maillaud said that, for that reason, Zaid al-Hilli had not been asked to explain the calls from his phone to Romania.

"Those are the type of questions that cannot be asked of a witness in Britain," the prosecutor said. "He would have to be considered a suspect."

Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf were shot dead in the family estate car at a beauty spot near Lake Annecy on September 5th.

Their two young daughters survived the shooting, in which a French cyclist was also slain.

Police believe the cyclist, Sylvain Moller, was not a target and was shot because he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The attack bore some of the hallmarks of a professional assassination with the victims all having been shot in the head and at close range.

But detectives have admitted to being puzzled as to why the gunman unleashed at least 25 shots, which is incompatible with the idea of him or her being a highly trained professional.

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Dad’s ‘miracle escape’ after being buried by avalanche in French Alps

A man out walking with his family in the French Alps has made a miraculous escape from an avalanche after spending more than two and a half hours trapped under snow, rescuers said.

Dad's 'miracle escape' after being buried by avalanche in French Alps
Ski lifts in France are closed, but visitors and locals are free to enjoy other outdoor sports. Photo: AFP

The 50-year-old father was snowshoeing near the high-altitude Val d'Isere ski resort with his wife and two children on Thursday without anti-avalanche safety equipment.

“Thank to the mobilisation of nearly 100 people… the man was found alive after two hours and 40 minutes of searching,” the police for the local Savoie département announced on Twitter.

Because of the depth of the snow, rescue dogs were unable to detect a trace, but the man was eventually dug out by a specialised mountain police team which used a Wolfhound device to locate his mobile phone under the ice.

“I think it's a miracle,” Alexandre Grether from the PGHM rescue team told the France 3 local news channel, adding that the man was found 2.5 metres (eight feet) below the surface.

The chances of survival after more than 20 minutes in an avalanche are usually slim.

“He was protected by a tree, that's what prevented him from being crushed by all the ice that slid down. The snow had surrounded him, but he had a pocket of air,” he explained.

The victim is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a fracture to his hip.

The avalanche risk on Thursday was at its maximum – five on a scale of five – and rescuers urge people to always check the snow conditions before venturing out.

READ ALSO 'Whole season a write-off' – what next for France's ski resorts?

Ski lifts in the Alps, which have seen some of their heaviest snowfalls in years in January, are currently closed because of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Visitors and locals are free to enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, but occupancy levels in hotels and chalets are way down and business owners and seasonal staff face serious hardships.

The government has promised an economic support package for the sector.