Al-Hilli killings: One year on, mystery surrounds the quadruple murder in the Alps

But French and British investigators pledge 'absolute determination' to solve it

Paris

Industrial espionage is now regarded as one of three possible explanations for the the Al-Hilli killings in the French Alps a year ago this week.

French investigators today put forward for the first time the possibility that Saad Al-Hilli, a satellite engineer, might have been the target of an assassination by a “state agency” connected with technological spying.

But the Annecy prosecutor, Eric Maillaud, admitted to an anniversary press conference that the mystery of the quadruple murder on a forest lay-bay above Lake Annecy in the French Alps remained almost intact.

Despite 12 months of exhaustive investigations in France and Britain, “there is not the start of the beginning of proof” of who may have been responsible, Mr Maillaud said.

Two other lines of inquiry remained open, he said.

The first was a “violent” quarrel between Saad al-Hilli and his brother Zaid over their father’s €3-5 million inheritance. The second was a targeted hit by an unknown person or persons in Iraq, who wanted to deprive both brothers of their father’s legacy.

On 5 September last year, Saad a-Hilli, 50, a British-Iraqi satellite engineer, his wife Iqbal, 47, a dentist, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were found shot in the head in the family BMW estate two miles from the village of Chevaline. The body of a local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, lay nearby.

The couple's 7-year-old daughter, Zainab al-Hilli, was found at the scene with head and shoulder injuries. Her sister, Zeena, 4, was found unharmed eight hours later hiding beneath her dead mother’s legs in the back of the car.

In June, British police arrested Mr al-Hilli’s older brother, Zaid, 54, on suspicion of ordering the killings. He was released on bail without charge.

“Zaid  should not at all be regarded as the number one suspect,” Mr Maillaud said yesterday. “He had a motive in the sense that he was in a serious conflict with his brother but there is not the shadow of an element pointing to his guilt which could justify keeping him in custody.”

Zaid al-Hilli protests his innocence and denies that there was any quarrel over their father’s will, thought to include property and cash in Britain, Switzerland, Spain and Iraq. He will be questioned again, Mr Maillaud said.

“People have been killed for less than that,” the prosecutor said. “There was a violent conflict between them. Saad was afraid of his brother.”

The prosecutor – who is no longer leading the investigation but remains its chief spokesman -  said the “family quarrel” was only one of three “equally strong” lines of inquiry. Mr Maillaud revealed that Saad al-Hilli had kept at his home in Claygate, Surrey, an “unusual” amount of documents from his work on weather-forecasting and crop-watching micro-satellites.

“His company worked for many foreign states,” Mr Maillaud said. “Any mention of foreign countries and industrial espionage inevitably raises the possibility of the involvement of secret intelligence agencies.”

“This is a very complex part of the inquiry… but investigations are far from being closed on this subject.”

On the third, Iraqi, line of inquiry, Mr Maillaud  said the authorities in Baghdad had promised to cooperate but had still not responded to an international warrant issue in November last year.

“The question is whether there is anyone in Iraq who currently controls part of the father’s inheritance who would benefit from the disappearance of both al-Hilli brothers.”

Mr Maillaud insisted that the “very complex” investigation was not “stuck” and had made some progress recently. The US authorities, after months of delay, had finally approved access to data from Saad al-Hilli’s computers, stored across the Atlantic.

The prosecutor also revealed that Mr al-Hilli had recorded all of his phone conversations and investigators were going through the tapes.  

There were still 40 French and 40 British investigators working on the case, the prosecutor said. In France alone, 3,000 witnesses had given formal statements and 107 expert reports had been commissioned. Formal requests for information had been sent to 23 countries.

The killer is known to have used an antique 7.65mm  Lugar P06 revolver, issued to the Swiss army and police in the 1920s and 1930s. Part of the handle of the gun was found at the scene.

Three clips of eight bullets were fired in a very short time, Mr Maillaud said. There were no bullet impacts on the bodywork of the car. This suggested that the attacker was an “experienced killer”  but, otherwise, investigators had been unable to create a clear profile.

The use of such an old gun – widely available locally but not a weapon of choice for professional hitmen or secret agents – is one of the great remaining mysteries of the investigation.   

Representatives of  Surrey police were also present.

Detective superintendent Nick May said: “We remain committed to finding answers to what happened that day on behalf of their (the victims') families, particularly for the two young girls who lost their parents.

“We have established a good working relationship with our French colleagues and are continuing to pursue a number of lines of inquiry in the UK.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions