Police think British man may have been target


FRENCH POLICE investigating the shooting dead of four people in a suspected ambush in the Alps believe Saad al-Hilli, an Iraqi-born British citizen, may have been the target.

He was shot dead in a BMW car with his wife and mother-in-law on Wednesday in the incident, which occurred in a remote car park near Lake Annecy.

A local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, who apparently stumbled across the attack, was also killed.

Preliminary forensic examinations showed all four victims were shot at least three times, and all four bodies had one bullet wound to the head.

“This case looks more and more like an ambush, even if we are not sure if it is the work of a professional,” prosecutor Eric Maillaud said.

Two girls, Zainab (7) and Zeena (4), survived the attack and were under police protection in hospital.

Mr Maillaud said investigators had gleaned little from a conversation yesterday with the four year old, who spent eight hours hiding under bodies in the car, apparently too scared to move, while police kept it sealed to await a forensics team.

“She is only four so what she has been able to tell us is more about the ambiance. She has spoken of hearing noises and cries and told us she was afraid so she hid,” Mr Maillaud said.

The elder girl, believed to be her sister, was badly beaten and underwent a second operation in Grenoble for severe head injuries. Mr Maillaud said investigators were anxious to speak to her but had to respect doctors’ advice. He said that her condition was improving but she was unable to speak.

With police increasingly of the view that the family may have been targeted, their attention turned to Mr Hilli’s private and professional life as they searched for clues to any motive for the killings.

Mr Maillaud said the inquiry team had received information from their British counterparts about a financial dispute between two brothers in the family.

The prosecutor told a news conference that one of Mr Hilli’s brothers went to see British police on Thursday to ask for news about him. The brother returned yesterday after hearing reports of a family conflict and told police there was no such disagreement.

French investigators have stressed that even if there was a family dispute, it would be a considerable leap to link it to the killing of three adults and the violent beating of a young girl.

There was no reason the brother should be considered the “number one witness”, the prosecutor said.

The bodies were discovered at about 3.50pm on Wednesday by a British cyclist who had a holiday home in the area.

The cyclist, a former Royal Air Force member, told police he saw a green 4x4 and a motorbike driving away from the crime scene, but did not hear any shots as he climbed the hill towards the car park.

Officials have not identified a murder weapon, but Mr Maillaud said 25 spent cartridges were found at the scene. Postmortem results are expected to be released today.

The family had arrived on holiday at the Le Solitaire du Lac campsite in nearby Saint-Jorioz on Monday and had been due to leave at the end of the week.

French and British police were co-operating closely on the inquiry. Three French officers were due to fly to London yesterday to co-ordinate with their counterparts in Surrey, where Mr Hilli, a 50-year-old engineer, lived with his wife and children.

Le Dauphiné Libéré, a local newspaper, said the police were planning to examine the family home.

Success story from Saddam’s Iraq to leafy Surrey

THE LIFE that Saad al-Hilli and his family lived in affluent commuter- belt Surrey was a far cry from his Iraqi roots.

The 50-year-old mechanical engineer is believed to have come to Britain in the 1970s, settling with his family in upmarket Claygate, near Esher, reportedly after their business was looked upon “unfavourably” by Saddam Hussein’s Baath party.

He and his dentist wife Iqbal, who worked at a local surgery, were described as a lovely couple, whose children Zeena and Zainab went to a local school in the leafy village of about 7,000 people.

They were said to be keen caravanners who had previously visited France on holiday.

The engineer started his own small business, Shtech Ltd, in 2001 and ran it from the detached house, his accountant said, working on projects including for the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, with the company doing well.

Online records show Mr al-Hilli was also a director of a Swindon company offering “business services, aerial photographers and surveys services”.

He had also worked for Guildford-based Surrey Satellite Technology as a contract mechanical design engineer since November 2010. Chief executive Dr Matt Perkins paid tribute to the Mr al-Hilli.

Jack Saltman, whose house backed on to the al-Hillis, said his neighbour was “a massively helpful man, a wonderful engineer” who helped him repair household machinery when it broke down. He described the girls as “absolutely gorgeous”.