• France's news in English

Alps murders: 'Ex-cop' linked to crime scene

Ben McPartland · 18 Feb 2014, 17:45

Published: 18 Feb 2014 17:45 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

French police on Tuesday arrested a 48-year-old man, described by a source as a former cop, over the 2012 killings of a British-Iraqi family and a cyclist, in their first breakthrough in the case.

Checks on the man's phone "put him in the zone at the moment" of the murders of the al-Hilli family and the cyclist on September 5, 2012, another source said.

He said several arms were seized at a raid in the man's home following his arrest and revealed his passion for guns. Another raid was carried out on a house in the nearby village of Lathuile.

Ballistic tests will be carried out to determine if these weapons had been used. 

Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud said the man, from the Haute-Savoie region, was placed in formal custody and detained following the release in November of a police sketch (See below) of a mysterious motorcyclist seen near where the quadruple murder took place. 

"This arrest, which may not be the only one, was the result of witness statements" that came in after the image was released, Maillaud said.

A source close to the case said the man, a father of three, was a former policeman from the town of Menthon-Saint-Bernard.

 "The man, if it is indeed the same person we think, was dismissed in June" from the force, Antoine de Menthon, the mayor of the town of Menthon-Saint-Bernard told AFP.

The man is being kept in custody and French officers carried out a search of his home in the presence of his girlfriend. 

The arrested man's home village of Lathuile was in the news in November after the owner of a camping site was shot dead at her home by two men wearing hoods.

Prosecutors at the time did not link the murder to the 2012 killings.

Earlier in the day one source close to the investigation told AFP the suspect was a "taciturn mountain man" and a gun enthusiast who "lives on the fringes of society".

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 on a quiet road 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.

Prosecutor Maillaud said there was no apparent "direct link" between the suspect and the victims. 

It was the police sketch, seen below, of the mysterious motocyclist seen near the scene of the murders that led to the suspect being arrested on Tuesday.

Witnesses gave a description to police of the motorcyclist early on in the case, but his e-portrait was not immediately released by police for fear he would go into hiding.

Investigators had hoped that the helmet depicted in the sketch would prove a fruitful avenue of inquiry, since it is a rare model, used by French police during the 2000s, with only 8,000 made in black, as seen by witnesses.

But despite receiving around 100 calls from the public, not one had led to any kind of break in the probe. 

However sources close to the investigation told AFP that Tuesday's arrest could prove significant.

The source close to the case said the arrest was "an important step forward in the investigation" but added that "other arrests should follow."

French police can hold suspects in criminal cases for up to 48 hours without charge.

The source was cautious about the arrest, noting the lack of any links to the victims.

"This is someone who lives around Chevaline and who has no known employment," the source said. "He was someone that investigators were looking at as part of their local leads."

The killings has so far baffled investigators despite major efforts on both sidesof the English Channel.

The main suspect in the probe had be Saad al Hilli's broter Zaid, with police suspectign that a family fued over inheritance may have been the motive behind the mursders.

Zaid was arrested and placed on bail but in January this year British police announced that he would be released as there was not enough evidence to bring charges.

The brother admitted he and his Saad had been involved in a bitter dispute over inheritance but insisted he was innocent of orchestrating the murders.

Zaid, who works as a payroll manager for a leisure company, said he had given 25 hours of interviews to British police but has refused to go to France for further questioning.

"The French, I don't trust them at all," he told The Times newspaper last year.

"My brother was killed there in that region and I am not going to take the risk."

In an interview with The Local earlier this year, 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, back in March. “The investigation is only six months old, which in terms of police inquiries is a very short period of time.”

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Homeless man does a runner from France's top restaurants
Photo: Prayitno/Flickr

"A man's gotta eat," he told police, after racking up gigantic bills in some of France's plushest restaurants.

Underwater museum hopes to make a splash in Marseille
A similar underwater museum piece by Jason deCaires Taylor. Photo: julie rohloff/Flickr

Don't forget your scuba gear...

Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Photo: Jacme/Flickr

Move over Paris...

And France's top chef of the year is... 'Monsieur Idiot'
Alexandre Couillon might have an unfortunate name, but he can sure cook!. Photo: AFP

Look beyond the name. He's the man who turned his family's humble "moules frites" joint into one of France's best seafood restaurants.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
Want to drive a scooter around Paris? Here's what you need to know
jobs available