French police have re-arrested a suspect in connection with the 2012 gun massacre of a British family and French cyclist in the Alps after ‘discovering inconsistencies’ in his statement.
In a dramatic development to what many had considered a cold case, a prosecuting source in Annecy, eastern France, on Wednesday confirmed that ‘a man was placed in custody at 8.05am and is being questioned at length’ in relation to the savage attack in the Alps.
Police are examining inconsistencies in the unnamed man’s original testimony and checking out his alibi,’ said the source.
Surrey businessman Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and his mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were gunned down as they tried to escape the area in their BMW car on September 5, 2012.
French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, also died in the bloodbath, after being shot seven times at point blank range.
The Al-Hillis’ daughter, Zeena, four, hid in the footwell of the vehicle and was unscathed, while her sister, Zainab, seven, was shot and beaten but made a good recovery.
French police have re-arrested a suspect in connection with the 2012 gun massacre of a British family and French cyclist in the Alps after ‘discovering inconsistencies’ in his statement (pictured, the crime scene)
Surrey businessman Saad al-Hilli, 50, (left) his wife Iqbal, 47, and his mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74 (right) also died in the September 2012 bloodbath, along with local cyclist Sylvian Mollier, 45
Annecy prosecutor Line Bonnet said in a statement: ‘A person was taken into custody on January 12, 2022 at 8:05 am by investigators from Chambery in connection with the assassination of the Al-Hilli family and Sylvain Mollier.’
He was said to be ‘living in a couple’ of houses in the Lyon area, and searches of his home and nearby properties were continuing.
Despite an investigation stretching across the world, those responsible have never been caught, leading to accusations that the French now view it as unsolvable.
But Line Bonnet-Mathis, the Annecy Prosecutor, has confirmed that the enquiry is still very much active.
Referring to the nearest hamlet to the crime scene, she said at the end of last year: ‘The Chevaline case is continuing, and still involves an investigating judge and investigators.’
Ms Bonnet-Mathis said the ‘preservation of physical evidence’ was a priority and that ‘for us, this is not a cold case.’
She confirmed that forensics officers from the research section of the Chambery gendarmerie had returned to the scene.
In November 2015 a motorcyclist linked with the murders was ruled out of the investigation. One lead in tracing the man was that he was wearing an unusual helmet, only a few thousand of which had been made.
But the motorcyclist said he had been on his way home after a paragliding trip, and was ruled out of the enquiry. It was described at the time as a major setback for police who had focused much of their attention on the motorcyclist.
Questioned further about the arrest, Ms Bonnet-Mathis said: ‘There have been a lot of arrests in this case, so we mustn’t get carried away.
‘I won’t be saying anymore until the suspect has been heard. We have already had a suicide after a police custody in this case, so must remain cautious and measured about its outcome.
‘I don’t want to give anything away that identifies this person, or where he comes from’.
In June 2014, Patrice Menegaldo, a former soldier in the French Foreign Legion, took his own life in Ugine, close to Annecy, after being questioned about the case.
He left a suicide note referring to the Alps Murders, following his interrogation by the Chambery detectives.
Police later said his arrest involved a ‘routine hearing of about two hours’, saying that Menegaldo was treated as potential witness to the crime, and not a murder suspect.
Other suspects previously arrested in connection with the case include an Iraqi prisoner known as Mr S who was claimed to have said he had been offered ‘a large sum of money’ to kill Iraqis living in the UK.
Mr al-Hilli’s brother, Zaid, was also arrested on suspicion of murder in 2013 but was later told he would face no further action after police found there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime.
Former local policeman Eric Devouassoux, a trained marksman who hoarded Second World War weapons at his home, was arrested in February 2014 in connection with the tragedy.
An unnamed middle-aged French man was arrested alongside Devouassoux and questioned.
The caravan and tent used by Saad al-Hilli and his family while on holiday at the Le Solitaire du Lac campsite on Lake Annecy (File photo)
Earlier in 2021, detectives said they were investigating a possible link between the murders and a bungling gang of contract killers based in Paris.
Pistol rounds found at the home of one member, a former police intelligence officer, were of the same calibre as those fired by the antique Luger PO6 used to kill the Al-Hillis.
Investigators believe that if the gang was involved, it be more likely that Mr Mollier was the primary target.
He was a welder in a subsidiary of the Areva nuclear power group, but tensions in his personal life are more likely to have provided a motive for him being targeted, they said.
Baffled French investigators have considered numerous other potential reasons for the attacks.
These range from Mr Al-Hilli’s past life in Iraq, including potential financial links to the late dictator Saddam Hussein, to claims that a ‘lone wolf’ psychopath was responsible for a random attack.
Police have also theorised convicted killer Nordahl Lelandais was involved in the deaths.
But none of the numerous theories surrounding the so-called Alps Murders have stuck, meaning there have been no criminal indictments.
Earlier in 2021, detectives (pictured at the scene in September 2021) said they were investigating a possible link between the murders and a bungling gang of contract killers based in Paris
Magistrates accompanied by police forensics officers cordoned off the area near Lake Annecy in September 2021