Causes of Alps murders 'lie in UK'


The chief prosecutor in the area of the French Alps where three Britons and a French man were gunned down said today that the causes and origins of their deaths lay in the UK.

Annecy’s chief prosecutor Eric Maillaud made the comments as he travelled to the United Kingdom as part of the inquiry. Mr Maillaud and examining magistrate Michel Mollin, another senior member of the inquiry team, met officers from Surrey Police at Woking police station to discuss the case.

Engineer Saad al-Hilli (50) and his dentist wife Iqbal (47) were murdered along with her mother in a remote spot close to Lake Annecy a week ago. The couple’s four-year-old daughter Zeena lay undiscovered under her mother’s corpse for eight hours afterwards, while her seven-year-old sister Zainab was found with serious injures after being shot and beaten.

Yesterday their families released a statement in which they said they were “heartbroken” by the deaths.

Mr Maillaud told reporters outside Woking police station it was “without any doubt that the reasons and causes have their origins in this country”. He added: “It is only by being together that we will find the murderers.” He thanked English authorities for their help with the inquiry.

The French officials have joined a small number of French investigators already in Britain to help investigate the mystery surrounding the deaths of the three Britons along with that of French cyclist Sylvain Mollier (45), who apparently stumbled across the attack.

Mr Maillaud said yesterday that 40 French police officers were working on the complex case, which has led to a flurry of theories relating to possible motives. He said investigators are focusing on three specific areas - Mr al-Hilli’s work, his family and his native Iraq - as they try to find a motive for the murders.

Mr Maillaud is expected to visit the al-Hilli family home in Claygate, Surrey, this afternoon as part of his 24-hour trip to the United Kingdom and will also meet police officers and Crown Prosecution Service officials.

The chief prosecutor said a number of witnesses have come forward in Annecy. They include a hiker, named only as Philippe D, 41, who likened the carnage to a horrific film scene. The walker described arriving at the site of the massacre, in the Combe d’Ire forest, near Chevaline, minutes after the attack at around 4pm last Wednesday.

Sources said the victims were likely to have been shot with the same gun, fuelling speculation they were targeted by a contract killer. Each person was shot twice in the head. Detailed ballistic analysis of 25 spent cartridges found at the scene suggests they all came from a 7.65mm automatic pistol. The gun has been described as an old-fashioned weapon but one that is still sometimes used by special forces.

The victims’ bodies have been returned to their families.

Yesterday’s statement from the families said they had been “touched by the expressions of sympathy from people all over the world”.

“We are very grateful for the support provided by the British, French and Iraqi authorities during this difficult time. We hope that those responsible for the deaths of our loved ones are brought swiftly to justice,” it added.