French walker recounts horror at Annecy massacre scene


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The Independent Online

A walker who came upon the aftermath of a massacre in the French Alps has likened the carnage to a horrific film scene.

The man, named only as Philippe D, 41, is the first witness to speak publicly about the murders of British engineer Saad al-Hilli, his wife and mother-in-law.

He spoke as it emerged that a French judge and prosecutor were travelling to Britain as part of their inquiries.

Meanwhile, three more people were found in a car following a shooting on the French island of Corsica today although there was no immediate evidence of any link.

It is nearly a week since the three Britons and a French cyclist came under a hail of gun fire in a secluded car park close to Lake Annecy.

Mr D, an experienced hiker, told Le Parisien newspaper how he came across the dramatic scene after setting out with two female friends to go walking.

He recalled how the group was met by a "panic-stricken" British cyclist making his way down from the murder scene as they drove up a hill in the Combe d'Ire forest, near Chevaline.

The cyclist, a former member of the RAF, tried to explain in bad French what lay up ahead and said he wanted to call for help.

Arriving at the car park, Mr D saw the bodies of Mr al-Hilli, 50, his dentist wife Iqbal and Mrs al-Hilli's mother in their bullet-ridden BMW.

A fourth body, that of Sylvain Mollier, 45, the French cyclist who apparently stumbled across the attack, lay on the ground. Zainab, seven, was lying by the car.

"There wasn't a single sound," the walker said.

"It was like in a film. One of those television series where everything begins with a murder, only this time we were the actors and we did not have the remote control to change the channel."

"I immediately understood."

He added: "I approached the car. I did not touch anything but I saw that there was nothing that could be done. There was no sign of life."

He then turned his attention to the little girl.

"She did not respond when we addressed her," he said. "I clapped my hands but she did not react. I even spoke a few words of English because I saw that the car had a British number plate but nothing happened.

"As far as I could tell, she was dead."

Mr D, who called the emergency services, said the group feared for their own safety, concerned an assailant was still in the area.

But he said they had seen no one as they drove up through the forest and that the killer or killers could have escaped using a winding lane which leads directly to the motorway.

Had they arrived any earlier, he told the newspaper, they may have been shot dead too.

He spoke out as it emerged the al-Hilli family had moved from one campsite to another two days before they were gunned down.

A Dutch couple believed the group planned to spend a week at the three-star Village Camping Europa site in St Jorioz after they arrived last Saturday, but they left on Monday.

The campers said Mr al-Hilli acted strangely during that time, leaving his family alone several times each day. They also noticed an unusual man wearing a smart jacket visiting while the al-Hillis were there.

Staff at Village Camping Europa described the family as "very quiet, nice people".

A manager, who refused to give her name, said: "They came to stay with us on Saturday evening and left on Monday.

"That was pre-planned - they were here for just a few days."

The family were staying in a caravan at neighbouring campsite Le Solitaire du Lac when the killings happened.

Sources said the victims were likely to have been blasted 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.

But Annecy's public prosecutor Eric Maillaud has denied confirming this detail.

Zainab, who was shot and so brutally beaten that doctors placed her in a medically induced coma, is now seen as one of the key witnesses.

Police spoke briefly with her after she regained consciousness on Sunday and are waiting for approval from medics before they can question her further.

Her younger sister Zeena, four, escaped unscathed by cowering behind her mother as bullets rained down. She has flown back to Britain with carers.

It is unclear whether the second shooting, on the island of Corsica, could be linked to the attack in the Alps.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the victims were not known to be British.

Officers are now examining all aspects of Mr al-Hilli's life to find a motive for the murders, looking at his personal and professional links which include work for a satellite technology company in Surrey.

Investigators have said his brother, Zaid Hilli, approached British police to deny any feud with his sibling over an inheritance.

Detectives in Surrey have been searching Mr al-Hilli's home, in Claygate, while French police are examining two mobile phones found in his car.

Officers are also understood to be examining the hard disk from a laptop.

The French prosecutor and judge will join a small team of French investigators already in Britain.