French police re-arrest suspect over 2012 gun massacre of British family in the Alps after ‘discovering inconsistencies’ in his statement
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 suspect’s original testimony and checking out his alibi,’ said the source. BFM TV reported the suspect was a married man who had already been interviewed by police as a witness in the case but never detained.
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 pistol-whipped but recovered.
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-Mathis 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.
Further details will only be made public once the man’s detention period expires, the prosecutors said.
Previous suspects and ‘witnesses’ arrested over the case
During the course of the investigation, at least six individuals have been questioned but none has been charged.
Saad al-Hilli’s brother Zaid: 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.
French former soldier Patrice Menegaldo: Questioned in April 2013 – though police later maintained this was as a witness, not a suspect.
Menegaldo took his own life in June 2014 and left a suicide note that referred to ‘feeling like a suspect’ over the murders.
Iraqi prisoner known as Mr S: Questioned after he claimed to have been offered ‘a large sum of money’ to kill Iraqis living in the UK.
Former local policeman Eric Devouassoux: Arrested in February 2014 in connection with the tragedy but later cleared.
Unnamed biker: French biker seen in the area at the time was questioned but later ruled out of the case in November 2015.
Convicted killer Nordahl Lelandais: Questioned in connection with the case while being suspected of two murders that happened nearby.
After a review, authorities said they no longer believe Lelandais was connected to the al-Hilli family case.
He was later convicted for the murder of Corporal Arthur Noyer, 23, and faces another trial this year after he admitted killing Maelys de Araujo, eight, in August 2017 – though he maintains both deaths were accidental.
Despite an investigation stretching across the world that has involved 100 French gendarmes and nearly 40 UK police officers, those responsible have never been caught, leading to accusations that the French now view the case as unsolvable.
But Ms Bonnet-Mathis recently 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.
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.
During the course of the investigation, at least six individuals have been questioned but none have ever been charged.
In 2014, French authorities said that a biker long wanted in connection with the murders had been identified but had no link to the killings.
An Iraqi prisoner known as Mr S who was questioned after he claimed 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.
The brothers, born to middle-class parents in Baghdad before the family moved to Britain in 1971, had enjoyed a close relationship. But they fell out over the family house inherited from their mother, who died in 2003.
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. He was later cleared.
Meanwhile 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.
Mr al-Hilli’s brother, Zaid, (pictured) 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
Saad and Zaid al-Hilli brothers had enjoyed a close relationship. But they fell out over this £1million detached mock-Tudor mansion in Claygate, Surrey, inherited from their mother, who died in 2003
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 would be more likely that Mr Mollier, who worked in the nuclear industry, was the primary target.
He was a welder in a subsidiary of the Areva nuclear power group and had recently left his wife for an heiress with whom he had just had a baby.
Investigators have theorised his personal life could have been the source of a motive for his murder.
But baffled French investigators have also 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, but no longer believe, convicted killer Nordahl Lelandais was involved in the deaths.
Mr Lelandis has been convicted for the murder of a 23-year-old soldier and confessed to the killing of an eight-year-old school girl.
But none of the theories surrounding the so-called Alps Murders have stuck, meaning there have been no criminal indictments.
And in one of many bizarre twists in the case, Mrs al-Hilli’s previous husband, American dentist James Thompson, died from a heart attack on the same day as the couple, but police said there was no link to the murders.
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
How did events on the day of the 2012 gun massacre of a British family and French cyclist in the Alps unfold?
During the morning of September 5, 2012, Iqbal, her mother Suhaila and her daughters, Zainab and Zeena, were seen picking apples together.
Around 1pm the family left the campsite and drove towards the village of Chevaline.
After 3:45pm an RAF veteran overtook another cyclist on a heavily forested road south of Chevaline in the French Alps.
Moments later he pulled into a car park and found Mr Mollier lying dead beside the family’s bullet-ridden BMW, which still has its engine running and was in reverse.
He spotted injured Zainab walking towards him before collapsing. He put her in the recovery position and called for help.
The cyclist saw the dead bodies of Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and his mother in law Suhaila, inside the car, which was locked.
Each of them had been shot twice in the head while Mr Mollier was shot seven times.
Around 4:20pm police arrived but did not disturb the crime scene because forensic experts from Paris were on their way. More than two dozen spent bullet casings were later found near the vehicle.
Zainab was taken to hospital in Grenoble while her sister Zeena remained hidden, cowering under her mother’s legs in the rear footwell for eight hours before she was discovered.
Around 11pm a family who had been camping next to the al-Hilli’s told police the couple had two children leading to a rescue mission involving helicopters and search dogs to find Zeena.
A helicopter fitted with thermal imaging flew over the BMW but failed to detect Zeena.
Around midnight on September 6, the police eventually opened the vehicle’s doors and discovered the four-year-old cowering under her death mother’s legs.