Further details of last month’s brutal quadruple murder in the French Alps were revealed this weekend after a report was leaked to a French newspaper.
In a two-page special report, the respected French newspaper Le Monde revealed chilling, new details of the shooting of three members of a British-Iraqi family and a French cyclist near Lake Annecy on 5 September.
Le Monde also made a link between the al-Hilli family and the alleged missing fortune of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
The newspaper said that German intelligence “was believed” to have told French authorities of a possible connection between the al-Hilli family and the rumoured missing Saddam millions.
But the Saddam link was formally denied by French investigators today. The head of the murder investigation, Gendarmerie Colonel Benoit Vinnemann, said: “This is false. No intelligence service from any country has given us any information of this kind.”
The newspaper said that the Iraqi-born engineer, Saad al-Hilli, 50, had originally been shot and wounded while standing with his daughter on a forest lay-by near the village of Chevaline. He ran to his car, trying but failing to pull seven years old Zainab with him.
As he reversed his BMW estate at high speed Mr al-Hilli ran over and dragged the wounded body of the local cyclist, Sylvain Hillier, 45, who had also been hit by the gunman’s first volley of shots.
In his panic, Mr al-Hilli backed violently into the steep forest side and his car stuck fast.
The killer, armed only with an obsolete 80 years old luger pistol, fired more shots through the car windows, killing Mr al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74.
He then finished off the cyclist, Mr Mollier and beat Zaina, aged 7, savagely with the handle of his gun.
The little girl failed to get back into her parents car, possibly because she had been wounded in the shoulder from the killer’s initial volley. She only survived because the gunman ran out of bullets.
Le Monde said that its information came from a provisional “synthesis” of the clues found at the murder scene and the recollections of eye-witnesses. This report, the newspaper said, had been dispatched recently to the national headquarters of the gendarmerie in Paris.
The sequence of events suggested a random attack by a deranged individual, rather than a “professional” killing.
The chief gendarmerie investigator and the Annecy prosecutor denied today that any such report to gendarmerie headquarters existed – but they did not contradict the main contents of the Le Monde story.
In an interview with The Independent last week, the Annecy prosecutor, Eric Maillaud expressed his frustration at some of the reporting on the murders, in both France and Britain. He said that he accepted that the problem arose because, under French law, the investigation was supposed to be secret.
In the absence of official information, leaks from the inquiry were sometimes accurate and sometimes false and sometimes taken out of context, he said. He was not allowed to comment on them all.
Today, Mr Maillaud, like Colonel Vinnemann, denied that any form of provisional narrative or “synthesis” of the events of 5 September had been sent to gendarmerie headquarters. However, he did not deny the thrust of the Le Monde report.
The newspaper said that a “dynamic” of the murders had been recreated from forensic evidence and the accounts given by Zainab-al Hilli and Brett Martin, the British cyclist who discovered the massacre.
These included two scatterings of glass from the car windows, suggesting that the BMW had been fired upon in two different places a metre or so apart.
They also included – intriguingly – small pieces of the Luger P06 used by the gunman, a weapon issued to the Swiss army in the 1920s and 1930s. How the gun came to be broken is unclear.
Officially, all lines of investigation – including a targeted assassination – remain open. However, the prosecutor, Mr Maillaud, told Le Monde, that “the hypothesis of a lone and psychologically disturbed killer, is gaining ground.”