French police ‘close’ to solving murder of British family in Alps

Investigators are close to solving the brutal 2012 murder of a British family in the French Alps, the lead prosecutor in one of France's most notorious cold cases said on Thursday.

French police 'close' to solving murder of British family in Alps
The shootings happened near the small Alpine village of Chevaline. Photo by JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT / AFP

In September 2012, Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old Iraqi-born British tourist and his wife Iqbal were shot dead in front of their two young daughters in a forest car park close to Lake Annecy, near France’s border with Switzerland.

Iqbal’s mother was also killed in the execution-style attack, as was a French cyclist who apparently stumbling upon the scene on a remote mountain road.

French investigators have struggled for more than nine years to identify a motive for the killings.

An unnamed man was held for questioning in mid-January, raising hopes of a breakthrough, but he was released a day later and ruled out as a suspect

“I think we’re nearly there,” Annecy public prosecutor Line Bonnet said in an interview with Swiss daily la Tribune de Geneve.

“We’ll succeed thanks to scientific evidence,” she said.

Saad al-Hilli, 50, his 47-year-old wife and 74-year-old mother-in-law were killed in an isolated car park near the village of Chevaline.

Each had been shot in the head several times. More than two dozen spent bullet casings were found near their British-registered BMW estate car.

The couple’s two daughters, aged seven and four at the time, survived the attack, although the older girl had been shot and badly beaten.

Sylvain Mollier, a 45-year-old French cyclist thought to be an innocent bystander, was found dead nearby.

“This is not a cold case at all,” said Bonnet, who took up her post in September 2021.

She said three people were working on the murder full-time.

“They decided to start from the beginning again and check all the sealed files… We’re regularly detaining people so we can close the doors, one after the other.

The man held for questioning in January had taken part in a recent reconstruction of the crime scene as a witness.

Local newspaper Le Dauphine Libere identified him as the mystery motorcyclist who had been seen near the murder site in 2012.

Prosecutors declined to confirm if it was the same man.

The motorcyclist was tracked down in 2015 after police trawled through  all the 4,000 mobile phone numbers logged in the area on the day of the murders and rang each one.

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French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window ‘may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack’

An 89-year-old man who was pushed out of his 17th-storey window by a neighbour may have been killed because he was Jewish, a prosecutor said on Friday, after several shocking anti-Semitic murders in France in recent years.

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window 'may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack'

The victim’s body was found at the foot of his building in Lyon, southeast France, on May 17th and the 51-year-old neighbour was arrested. But investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

Last Sunday, the BNVCA anti-Semitism watchdog group said it would seek to be a plaintiff in the case, citing its similarity with the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window in a case that sparked national outcry.

“After social media postings were provided to us, the prosector’s office has asked judges to consider the aggravating circumstance of an act committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told AFP.

He did not provide examples of the posts, but Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer and commentator for CNews television, said on Wednesday on Twitter that the suspect had called out Goldnabel in messages, including one that told him to “remember your origins.”

“It’s no longer a question of telling us it’s the act of a mentally disturbed person. The truth of anti-Semitism must no longer be hidden,” Goldnadel wrote.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The murder of Halimi drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of drugs and not criminally responsible.

That prompted President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.