French police extend custody of man held over murder of British-Iraqi family

French investigators have extended the police custody of a man being questioned over the unsolved murder of three members of a British-Iraqi family and a French cyclist shot dead in a remote area of the French Alps in 2012.

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Robert Pratta/Reuters

The arrest, house search and ongoing questioning are a rare development in one of France’s most notorious unsolved cold cases.


Load Error

The man’s lawyer, Jean-Christophe Basson-Larbi, told reporters his client had already been interviewed by police as a witness in the case several years ago but never detained. The lawyer, who did not identify his client, said the arrest was unjustified as the man had been “cleared in 2015” after being spoken to as a “mere witness”. He added: “This man’s position is still the same: ‘I was on a walk’… He did not cross paths with this poor family.”

French media reported that the man being questioned was a motorcyclist who had been seen near the area of the crime by forest workers. A police image of a man in a motorcycle helmet with a goatee beard was released in 2013, the year after the murder. He was identified in 2015, questioned as a witness and found to have no link to the killings. He was reported to have been a business owner who was paragliding in the region at the time.

Saad al-Hilli, an Iraqi-born engineer, his wife, Ikbal, and her mother, Suhaila al-Allaf, were shot in a layby in a remote woodland car park close to the village of Chevaline, in the hills above Lake Annecy.

Each was shot several times in their British-registered BMW estate car and more than two dozen spent bullet casings were found near the vehicle. The couple’s two daughters, aged seven and four at the time, survived the attack, but the older girl was shot and badly beaten. The younger child had lain still for hours under her mother’s body.

A local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, was also shot dead at point-blank range after apparently stumbling on the scene. No one has been charged over the attack, which has baffled investigators for nine years.

Almost a decade after the killings, French and British police have so far failed to make any real progress in the case despite a huge effort involving officers on both sides of the Channel.

The Annecy public prosecutor said that the individual’s movements were being checked, but added that investigators were proceeding with “prudence” and it was possible the questioning may not yield anything.

The prosecutor’s office has not identified the man being questioned and said it would only give more detail at the end of the questioning, which could now last until Friday morning.

During the course of the nine-year murder investigation, several individuals have been questioned but without ever being charged.

After a review, authorities also no longer believe the former soldier Nordahl Lelandais, who has already confessed to the killing of a hitchhiking soldier and an eight-year-old schoolgirl, could be linked to the killings.

Meanwhile, Saad al-Hilli’s brother Zaid al-Hilli, who was arrested in Britain in June 2013 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder, was told in early 2014 by British police there was not enough evidence to charge him.

The brothers, born in Baghdad before the family moved to Britain in 1971, had enjoyed a close relationship. But they reportedly fell out over the family house inherited from their mother, who died in 2003.

The Hilli family lived in the Surrey village of Claygate, outside London.

Source: Thanks