Investigators in the French Alps massacre case have revealed the man they have re-arrested is the ‘mystery motorcyclist’ who was quizzed seven years ago.
While refusing to name him, lawyers on Wednesday confirmed he was the man seen riding away from the crime scene close to Lake Annecy, and looking lost.
Prosecutors today extended his custody as they question him over the lethal attack on a British family and a cyclist in the French Alps on September 5, 2012.
It was the day Surrey businessman Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and his mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were gunned down in their BMW car.
French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, also died in the bloodbath, after being shot seven times at point blank range at a layby near Lake Annecy, eastern France.
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 Alps massacre investigators have revealed the man they have re-arrested is the ‘mystery motorcyclist’ (pictured, an e-fit released in Novemebr 20who was quizzed seven years ago over British family’s murder as his custody is extended
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, were gunned down in their BMW car on September 5, 2012, alongside French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, (right) also died in the bloodbath
Previous suspects and ‘witnesses’ arrested over the case
During the course of the investigation, several individuals have been questioned but none has been charged.
Saad al-Hilli’s brother Zaid: Arrested on suspicion of murder in 2013 but released 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’.
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.
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.
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 8000 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.
n 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.
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.’
Responding to the arrest, victim Saad al-Hilli’s brother Zaid, 62, said he was ‘hopeful’ that justice would finally prevail.
Speaking to MailOnline, Mr al-Hilli, who lives in Bournemouth, Dorset, said: ‘It is good to hear that there has been an arrest and I’m hopeful that that something will come of it, that at last there will be a conviction.
‘However, at this stage I’m not going to get carried away as we’ve been here before. I hope that this latest arrest is not just to show that the authorities in France are doing something.’
Mr al-Hilli, who was previously arrested in connection with the case, added: ‘What with all that’s happened in the past, I’m very skeptical of this investigation but I have to be hopeful that justice will be done.’
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
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)
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 Annecy prosecutor Line 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.
Menegaldo was one of several individuals who have been questioned as part of the investigation, but none have ever been charged.
Mr al-Hilli’s brother, Zaid, was 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.
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
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 but was later cleared.
And 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.
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.
And 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, also theorising his personal life could have been the source of a motive for his murder.
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.
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.