Theories about the brutal quadruple murder in the French Alps last month were turned upside down yesterday by an official report which found that a local cyclist – not the al-Hilli family – was the first to be shot.
A provisional ballistic and forensic report also spoke of a "frenzied" attack which was "incompatible" with the work of a professional hitman.
Although the report draws no final conclusions, its findings imply that the British-Iraqi Al-Hilli family may have been random victims, rather than the target of a planned assassination. Study of the 22 bullets found in the bodies and other forensic evidence suggests that a local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, was the first to be attacked by what investigators are convinced was a single gunman.
This suggests that Mr Mollier may have been the original target or that, more likely, the killings were the work of a lone psychopath.
Mr Mollier, 45, was cut down by a volley of shots from a 7.65mm automatic pistol but was not immediately killed, according to the gendarmerie report leaked to the newspaper Le Parisien. He was finished off after the murderer had turned his gun on Saad al-Hilli, 50, an Iraqi-born engineer, his wife, Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74.
The killer then returned to each victim on several occasions to make sure that they were dead.
Studies of the shoes of the victims suggest that Mr al-Hilli, and his seven years old daughter, Zainab, had been outside his BMW estate car when first menaced by the killer on a remote forest road above lake Annecy on 5 September. Mr al-Hilli, on a caravan holiday nearby, fled to his car and tried to drive away but he reversed at speed into a steep forest bank and became stuck. He was found dead at the wheel of his car with the engine running and the wheels still spinning.
His wife and mother-in-law were shot in the rear seat of the car while four-year-old Zeena al-Hilli hid beneath their legs, presumably unseen by the murderer. Her older sister Zainab was found later staggering outside the car with a gunshot in her shoulder and severe head injuries from a beating with a blunt instrument.
The Franco-British investigation into the murders has mostly focused on the possibility that Mr al-Hilli was targeted because of a family quarrel; or because of his work in the air surveillance industry; or for some reason connected with his Iraqi past. The possibility of a planned attack on the cyclist has also been studied but does not appear to have been taken seriously by investigators.
The forensic and ballistic report says that the cyclist, a factory manager for a plant supplying metal to the nuclear industry, was the first person to be shot several times but not fatally. After attacking the al-Hillis, the killer returned to finish off Mr Mollier. He then moved his body and arranged it, arms by its sides, next to the al-Hillis' car.
The report, according to Le Parisien, speaks of "frenzied behaviour" by a gunman "going from victim to victim and then back again to finish them off". The report concludes that this behaviour was "not compatible with the profile of a professional killer".