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French police reopen British Alps murder case after possible serial killer arrested

French prosecutors investigating the mysterious murder of a British family in the French Alps five years ago say they will be probing whether a suspected serial killer now in police custody was behind them.

French police reopen British Alps murder case after possible serial killer arrested
The mountain road where the al-Hilli family were gunned down. Photo: AFP

“Checks will be carried out” to see if Nordahl Lelandais was involved in the grim murders of Saad al-Hilli, his wife and mother-in-law and a French cyclist, the prosecutor in the town of Annecy, Véronique Dénizot, told The Local.

The al-Hillis were gunned down in broad daylight on a mountain road near Annecy in what appeared to be an execution-style attack by a killer or killers who probably had military or other training in the handling of firearms, police said at the time.

Investigators said the attack –  which the Iraq-born couple's two young daughters survived, with one of them hiding for hours under her dead mother's skirt – was carried out in a cold, professional manner.

Police never found any motive for the crime despite lengthy investigations in Britain, France and Iraq.

Prosecutor Dénizot said that “within a reasonable time frame” her team of investigators would examine whether there are any links to Nordahl Lelandais, who is custody over the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl in August and the murder of a soldier in April.

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Murder case in French Alps sparks serial killer fearsPhoto: AFP

Lelandais, who had been a soldier in the French army where he worked as a military dog trainer, was charged this week with the murder of Arthur Noyer, a 24-year-old soldier last seen on April 12th hitchhiking in the town of Chambery after leaving a nightclub.

Lelandais, 34, was previously charged for the abduction and murder in August of an eight-year-old girl named Maelys de Araujo who disappeared from a wedding only a half-hour drive from Chambery.

Chambery is about 50 km from Annecy.

French media were quick to ask whether police had captured a serial killer who may have been responsible for a a string for disappearances or murders in the Alps in recent years.

Chambery Prosecutor Thierry Dran confirmed that a number of cold cases would be reopened.

“We are going to look at all the disturbing disappearances which have taken place in this region,” he told reporters, without detailing which cases would be re-examined.

The Annecy prosecutor said that currently there was no evidence to suggest that Lelandais might be linked to the al-Hilli murders but that investigators would in due course probe his whereabouts on September 2012, the day the family were gunned down.

Lelandais, who was unemployed and lived with his mother, has denied all charges against him.

Investigators found that he had looked up “decomposition of a human body” soon after the soldier's disappearance.

WILDFIRES

French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

On the ground, two officers from a special mobile brigade of France's paramilitary gendarmerie speed along a forest track.

French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

Above them, a helicopter scans the landscape to warn them of any fires or anyone who might be looking to start one.

These are the members of a newly created police team who have just started patrolling in southwest France to seek out and arrest the fire-starters devastating the region’s forests.

In the last week, no less than 20 fires have broken out in the forest bordering the seaside resort of Soulac-sur-Mer in the La Gironde department of southwest France, says the local gendarmerie.

While some have burned for just a 100 square metres (322 square feet), the largest devoured 30 hectares (74 acres) of forest.

Scorched trees and charred trunks line the paths and cycle paths that criss-cross the woods.

To stop the devastation, local officials have sent in the new unit, the Forest Vigilance Platoon (PVF) made up of 15 reservist gendarmes, a senior police officer and two motorcyclists from the mobile brigade, backed up by the
helicopter.

Spread across three zones, the PVF patrol the forest on motorbikes, all-terrain bicycles or in cars, where possible, on the hunt for fire-starters.

Set up just last week they started patrolling on Thursday.

The idea is that the PVF will free up firefighters who have been stretched thin battling blazes that since Tuesday have burned up 7,400 hectares of pine forests at the southern end of Gironde.

“After the major fires in July, we observed a rise in the number of arson cases,” said Martin Guespereau, deputy prefect for defence and security in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which covers the Gironde.

“There are around twenty fires of unknown origin a day in Gironde.”

 According to France’s National Forests Office (ONF) nine out of 10 fires were started by people — and three out of 10 were started deliberately.

Forest off-limits

“The Forest Vigilance Platoon is a support division, whose aim is to prevent, detect and possible to arrest,” said Captain Christophe Roque, who was given the job of putting the team together.

Red-and-white signs at the edge of the Soulac-sur-Mer forest inform walkers that due to the “very severe” risk of fire, the forest is off-limits to the public until further notice — and has been since August 11.

A few cyclists were nevertheless out on the trails on Saturday, and were quickly intercepted by the gendarmes of the PVF.

“As soon as we come across someone, we get their identity,” said one member of the team, Bruno Kechtoff. “Because if we come across the same person several times, then that becomes suspicious.”

A message comes over the radio: two outbreaks of fire barely 500 metres (yards) apart, near Bazas, south of Bordeaux, the regional capital. A local has reported seeing someone on a moped wearing “yellow-trimmed” trousers”.

The LVF’s helicopter veers off towards Bazas, 130 kilometres away (80 miles) away.

Where they are sent next depends on where the next fires break out, says Constable Jeremy Hernandez. “We have been called here urgently but we can move if other areas are concerned.”

Then they are in their car and driving off, siren wailing, on the look-out for a quad reported in the woods.

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