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CRIME

‘Ogre of the Ardennes’ charged with murder of nine-year-old girl in France

A convicted French serial killer has been charged with the abduction and murder of a nine-year-old girl who disappeared in 2003, in the latest twist in a case that has gripped France.

'Ogre of the Ardennes' charged with murder of nine-year-old girl in France
Michel Fourniret is already serving a life term for the murder of seven girls and young women. Photo: AFP

Michel Fourniret, jailed for life in May 2008 for the murder of seven girls and young women, has been charged over the disappearance of Estelle Mouzin from a village east of Paris, a legal source said, after his wife came forward to contradict his alibi.

He was questioned for nearly three hours in a Paris court Wednesday by the investigative magistrate handling the Mouzin case, said the source.

He was called in nearly a week after Fourniret's ex-wife, Monique Olivier, made a statement contradicting the alibi Fourniret provided for the date of Mouzin's disappearance, January 9th, 2003.


The body of Estelle Mouzin, who disappeared while walking home from school, has never been found. Photo: AFP

His ex-wife Olivier is also serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 28 years for her role in some of the abductions and killings.

Fourniret's lawyers made no comment at the end of their client's questioning Wednesday.

Estelle Mouzin disappeared in Guermantes, 30 km east of Paris, while walking home from her school. Her body was never found.

Detectives first considered Fourniret as a suspect in the disappearance of Estelle Mouzin in 2006. They found a photo of her on his computer, and a white van like the one he drove had been spotted in the area when she disappeared.

Fourniret always maintained he had nothing to do with the disappearance of Estelle Mouzin.

No DNA evidence linking him to the case was found and he insisted that on the day she vanished he was at home at Sart-Custinne, southern Belgium, near the French border.

Last week however, his former wife told investigators that the phone call Fourniret said he made from his home on the day the child disappeared, she actually made at his request.

“That means that Michel Fourniret was not at Sart-Custinne the day of Estelle Mouzin's disappearance,” said Olivier's lawyer, Richard Delgenes.

“He was somewhere else.

Fourniret, dubbed the “Ogre of the Ardennes”, carried out the seven killings for which he has been convicted between 1987 and 2001. He confessed to the kidnap, rape and murder of his victims and his life sentence carries no possibility of parole.

He was also convicted of attacks on three young girls who managed to escape him.

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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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