Alps murder: 'Hillbilly' former policeman arrested for questioning about al-Hilli massacre

 

Paris

Police investigating the Al-Hilli massacre in the French Alps have arrested a local man described as a “hillbilly”.

The 48-year-old man is believed to be the motorcyclist who was seen close to the quadruple killing above Lake Annecy on 5 September 2012.

Investigators said that the man held was being questioned as a witness and should not be described as a “suspect” at this stage. They also spoke, however, of a “significant breakthrough” in a complex, 18-month investigation which has chased possible links with Britain, Iraq, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and the United States.

It is believed at least seven other local people may be arrested for “acting as a criminal gang”. It is unclear whether they will be questioned in connection with the quadruple murder itself or whether they are suspected of withholding information.

The official spokesman for the investigation, Eric Maillaud, the Annecy state prosecutor, said that the arrested man had no connection with any of the victims. He refused to identify him but sources in the investigation described him as a “hillbilly”, and a “ silent” man.

He had once been a municipal policeman in the nearby town of Menthon Saint-Bernard but now worked in Switzerland.

The man, who was in custody last night at the regional gendarmerie headquarters in Chambéry, can be held for up to four days. The gendarmerie raided his home in La Thuile, a few kilometres from the crime scene yesterday morning. They later dug up the garden of another house that he owns in the neighbouring village of Talloires, using spades and a metal detector.

The man under arrest reportedly bears a strong resemblance to a man in a motor-cycle helmet shown in an Identikit image which was released by investigators in November last year. It remains unclear why the French inquiry waited 14 months to publish this image.

Forestry workers told gendarmes at the time that they had seen a beefy man with a beard on a private road in the mountains just above the crime scene on the afternoon of the murders. He was wearing a rare type of motorcycle helmet with a sideways opening at the mouth and jaw.

A gunman attacked the Iraqi-British Al-Hilli family in their maroon-coloured BNW estate car in a lay-by at the end of a steeply winding forest road near the village of Chevaline. Saad al-Hilli, 50, a satellite engineer from Surrey, his wife, Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were shot repeatedly. A local cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, was found lying dead beside their car, shot several times in the head and body.

The murder scene at Chevaline (Rex Features) The murder scene at Chevaline (Rex Features)
Seven-year-old Zainab al-Hilli was found alive outside the car, beaten savagely about the head and face and wounded by a gunshot in her shoulder. Her sister, Zeena, aged four, was found eight hours after the killings, unharmed but terrified, hiding under her dead mother’s legs.

The murders have generated several official lines of inquiry – and a host of wild speculations – but their motive has never been clear. The only other person arrested during the joint French-British investigation was Mr Al-Hilli’s older brother, Zaid.

He was questioned by Surrey police last year about a quarrel with his brother over their father’s £800,000 will but was released without charge. Surrey police said last month that there was no evidence to link him with the killings. 

Zaid al-Hilli leaves Guildford police station after having his bail cancelled last month (Getty) Zaid al-Hilli leaves Guildford police station after having his bail cancelled last month (Getty)
The Annecy prosecutor, Mr Maillaud, said last September, on the anniversary of the massacre, that the investigation team was also looking at the possibility of connections with Iraqi politics or “industrial espionnage” linked to Mr Al-Hill’s work as a satellite engineer.

Mr Maillaud played down the possibility that the killings were the work of a lone gunman. He also dismissed the possibility that the local cyclist, Sylvain Moller, was the real target.  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas