Nearly ten years after the battered and bloodied bodies of a British-Iraqi family and a French cyclist were found on a forest road in the French Alps, a local man who was questioned in 2015 has been arrested, according to local French media. On Thursday, police extended his detention and said he was being investigated for murder and attempted murder in the 2012 slaying. Police say they are working to verify discrepancies in his version of events the day of the murder when he was seen in the area. He said he was hang-gliding but authorities appear to disagree.
On Sept. 5, 2012, Saad Al-Hilli, 50; his wife, Iqbal, 47; and her mother, Suhaila Al-Allaf, 74 were found riddled with bullets inside their locked burgundy BMW that had been forced off a lonely road near Chevaline, by Lake Annecy. The family had been camping nearby and left the campsite for an Alpine drive. Several reports suggest that someone visited them at the campsite, but it is unclear who that might have been. The man being held, who was first reported to be a former police officer, is from Lyon, about a 90 minute drive from where the bodies were found.
The man in custody has not been named in accordance with French privacy laws, but his lawyer Jean-Christophe Basson-Larbi told France 3, “The position of this gentleman is always the same: he wandered on paths he did not know because he didn’t use GPS. He crossed paths with motorists, maybe, but he didn’t cross paths with this poor family.”
The murder took place after the school year had started, adding a curious twist as to why the family was on holiday when school was in session. Reports of secret bank accounts and family disputes further added to the intrigue.
The body of French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, lay lifeless outside the car, though authorities said he had no link to the family.
Mollier is thought to have stumbled upon the murder scene. Due to his work as a researcher in the nuclear industry, however, several people were interrogated about secrets he may have harbored that could have made him the target of an attack.
The Al-Hilli’s two young daughters, aged 4 and 7, survived. The oldest child, Zainab, had been pistol-whipped and shot in the shoulder—she was found alive outside the locked car. The youngest child, Zeena, was found in shock at her slain mother’s feet in the backseat.
In a strange twist, Mrs. Al-Hilli’s first husband—an American dentist, died of a heart attack the exact same day in the U.S., though no links between the two incidents have ever been established.
Thousands of people were investigated in the United Kingdom, France, and Iraq, where Al-Hilli had loose links to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Al-Hilli’s brother was detained briefly in 2013 when news emerged that there had been a dispute over family inheritance, but he was later released.
For years, the cold case seemed all but unsolvable until Wednesday when French police arrested a local police officer. Public prosecutor Line Bonnet confirmed the arrest at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, refusing to give details that were protected by a judicial gag officer. French media reported that the suspect was a married man who had retired from the police force several years ago and who had been questioned as a witness after the quadruple murder.