COPS have confirmed the re-arrest of a “mystery motorcyclist” seen speeding away from the scene of the slaying of a British family in the Alps a decade ago.
Surrey businessman Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and his mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were gunned down in a horrific attack in September 2012.
French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, also died in the bloodbath, after being shot seven times at point-blank range.
Prosecutors in France have now confirmed the biker being held over the deaths was first arrested and released without charge seven years ago.
While refusing to name him, lawyers on Wednesday said he was the “mystery motorcyclist” seen driving away from the crime scene close to Lake Annecy on September 5, 2012, and looking lost.
An e-fit photo of a “prime suspect motorcyclist” with a goatee beard was released in November 2013 and showed him in a distinctive black helmet, of which only about 8,000 were made.
The image, mainly produced by two forest rangers who briefly spoke to the man, finally led to a first arrest of the biker – a businessman from the French city of Lyon – in 2015.
He told police he had been on his way home from a paragliding trip in the Alps and was released without charge.
But on Tuesday morning, the man was re-arrested at the home in Lyon that he shares with his wife and children.
An initial custody period of 24-hours was extended on Wednesday as prosecutors said there were “inconsistencies with his alibi” that needed to be resolved.
He was being held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder as his defence lawyer, Jean-Christophe Basson-Larbi, pleaded his innocence.
Mr Basson-Larbi said: “This is a judicial error. My client is going through hell.”
Quoting his client directly, Mr Basson-Larbi said: “The position of this gentleman is always the same.
“I was strolling, I went to this region for something specific. The weather was fine, he was wandering on paths he didn’t know because he didn’t use his GPS.
“He crossed paths with motorists, maybe, but he didn’t cross paths with this poor family.”
The motorcyclist said he “did not make the connection” between his presence near the scene of the crime and the e-fit when it was first circulated, and that is why he did not initially come forward.
However, investigators have now detected discrepancies in his testimony while interviewing him at a secure police station in Chambery.
Iraqi-born Mr al-Hilli’s brother Zaid told The Sun Online he was “a little surprised” by the arrest which “came completely out of the blue for me” – as he slammed the French investigation.
“I want to say that hopefully this is the end of it but we have had so many red herrings over the last few years,” he said.
“The investigation by the French hasn’t been the best and now I think they just want to show they are still working on it but it’s a little too late.
“Anyone could see that but the French insisted on going up blind alleys and trying to cover up their original mistakes.”
All three Brits killed were ruthlessly dispatched with ‘double tap’ shots to the head by a professional shooter who circled their parked BMW.
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.
INVESTIGATION ACROSS GLOBE
Prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis has always insisted that the enquiry was still very much active.
In October, a lake near to the crime scene was sealed off as part of the investigation.
Referring to the nearest village to the crime scene, Bonnet said at the time: “The Chevaline case is continuing, and still involves an investigating judge and investigators.”
She confirmed that forensics officers were back at the scene.
They were accompanied by local magistrates who had obtained an order to shut the road down for two 24-hour periods.
Their work was being carried out under conditions of strict secrecy, with all traffic, including aircraft flying above, banned by court order.
“It’s a chance for the new legal team to examine elements of the case, including inconsistencies in the testaments of witnesses,” said another investigating source.
Asked if a reconstruction was taking place, the source said: “Not technically – it’s more a chance for the team to familiarise themselves with the scene.”
Last year, 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.
If the gang was involved, it would be more likely that cyclist – Mr Mollier – was the primary target, investigators believe.
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.
Zaid al-Hilli repeated his claim that Mollier was the target and his relations were merely innocent by-standers.
“It’s obvious Mollier was the target my brother and his family were just tourists on holiday they had no itinerary and were just along the roaf because they were on holiday but sadly it was the wrong plane at the wrong time,” he 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.
But none of the numerous theories surrounding the so-called Alps Murders has stuck, meaning there have been no criminal indictments.
In September 2020, sisters Zainab and Zeena were quizzed again by police in the hope that they would be able to give new leads.
Cops even probed Saad’s work making military satellites as a motive and his brother Zaid, 61, was quizzed about an alleged feud but told he’d face no further action.
A former French army paratrooper who had an affair with Sylvain Mollier’s sister was in the frame for the killings.
Patrice Menegaldo later killed himself and remains the chief suspect for the 2012 killings.
He left a suicide note referring to the Alps Murders, following his interrogation by the Chambery detectives.
Bonnet-Mathis insister prosecutors “mustn’t get carried away” with the latest arrest.
“We have already had a suicide after a police custody in this case, so must remain cautious and measured about its outcome,” she said.
“I don’t want to give anything away that identifies this person, or where he comes from.”