No breakthrough in Alps murder mystery despite arrest

19th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

Hopes of a breakthrough in the mysterious 2012 murders of a British-Iraqi family and a cyclist in the French Alps were dashed Wednesday as officials said a man in custody seemed to have no link to the case.

Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud said the case was "not cleared up" and that it was "highly unlikely" the 48-year-old, who was still in custody, would be charged in the murder probe.

"There is no obvious link" between the man and the murders, Maillaud said, after hopes had been raised when French police made their first arrest in the case.

The former municipal policeman was arrested on Tuesday, with investigators saying he bore a strong resemblance to an identikit image released in November of a mysterious motorcyclist seen near where the quadruple murder occurred.

Several weapons were seized during a raid on the man's home on Tuesday and Maillaud said he was suspected of being involved in arms trafficking with an accomplice.

Maillaud said a second person close to the arrested man had been detained on Tuesday night after "trying to flee".

Among the items found at the arrested man's home were a motorcycle, a Luger pistol and two motorcycle helmets, Maillaud said.

Investigators have previously said a Luger P06, a handgun used by the Swiss army in the 1930s, was used in the killings.

But the helmets did not match the one described by witnesses and the Luger was part of a broad collection of World War II-era weapons, Maillaud said.

- Other arrests likely -

"The investigation is continuing," he said, adding there will likely be "other arrests to come".

Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old Iraqi-born British tourist in France, was gunned down along with his 47-year-old wife Iqbal and her 74-year-old mother in a woodland car park close to the village of Chevaline in the hills above Lake Annecy.

Each was shot several times in their British-registered BMW estate car and more than two dozen spent bullet casings were found near the vehicle.

The couple's two daughters, aged seven and four at the time, survived the gruesome attack, but the older girl was shot and badly beaten.

The younger girl survived unscathed after hiding under her mother's skirts for hours after the killings, initially escaping the notice of police.

A 45-year-old French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, was also killed after apparently stumbling upon the scene.

Investigators had expressed caution Wednesday after the arrest of the man, who had been dismissed as a policeman from the town of Menthon-Saint-Bernard last June.

Saad al-Hilli's brother Zaid was arrested in Britain in June last year on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder, but police said last month there was insufficient evidence to press charges.

Investigators had been looking at an inheritance dispute between the two brothers.

Zaid al-Hilli said Wednesday that he was "relieved" that the focus of the investigation seemed to be moving on from himself.

Speaking at his home southwest of London, the 54-year-old businessman told Sky News television he was "happy" about the arrest and hoped the investigation was moving forward.

"Anything is better than nothing. We'll see what happens. We cannot raise our hopes," he said.

The identikit image released in November featured a man sporting a goatee and wearing a rare type of motorcycle helmet.

Witnesses had described seeing the motorcyclist riding away from the scene of the shooting and a British-registered BMW 4x4 in the area at the time.

French and British police have so far failed to make any real progress in the case despite a massive effort involving officers on both sides of the English Channel.

© 2014 AFP

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