'We don't know who could have done this. We have no idea'
“It was tremendous savagery,” said public prosecutor Eric Maillaud, “and what is certain is that somebody wanted to kill.” Beyond that, French police admitted they were mystified. Twenty-four hours after the shooting dead of four people in a remote forest car park near Lake Annecy on the Swiss border, the authorities had no suspects, no weapon and no motive.
Two girls, apparently on a camping holiday with their parents and grandmother, survived the attack on a car near the Alpine hamlet of Chevaline on Wednesday afternoon. Three of the victims were shot in the head with an automatic pistol, a seven-year-old was left for dead in a pool of blood and her little sister – the only one to emerge physically unharmed from the shootings – huddled motionlessly at her dead mother’s feet for eight hours before she was discovered by police.
A 50-year-old man, named by French media as Iraqi-born Saad al-Hilli from Surrey in southern England, was found slumped over the steering wheel of the British-registered BMW estate car. The bodies of two women, believed to be Mr al-Hilli’s wife Iqbal and his mother, were in the back seat.
A local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier (45), whom police believe may have stumbled across the scene of the attack, was also found dead. The father-of-three was on paternity leave; that day, he happened to be trying a new route home.
The alarm was raised at 4pm on Wednesday after a British cyclist made the discovery on a isolated stretch of forest road in the Parc Naturel Régional du Massif des Bauges, one of France’s largest national parks and a popular holiday destination. He found a badly injured seven-year-old girl lying in a pool of blood beside the BMW with its engine still running and three bodies inside.
It was not until midnight, when forensic experts opened the car doors, that they found the second little girl crouched behind the front seats. While physically unscathed, the four-year-old was “completely in shock and completely frozen”, the prosecutor said.
“She was clearly happy to be taken into the arms of the person who brought her out of the car. She smiled and started to speak in English. Almost straight away she asked where were her family,” Mr Maillaud said.
Some 15 bullet casings were found at the scene, but police said they did not yet know how many weapons were used or what the motive may have been.
“We don’t know who could have done this. We have no idea,” Mr Maillaud said.
“There are no real leads at the moment. My worry is that we may never find the killer.”