Annecy shootings: Saad al-Hilli brother 'must be questioned'
Family dispute over money is just one line of inquiry. But was French cyclist real target of Annecy murders?
THE BROTHER of Saad al-Hilli, the man murdered along with his wife and mother-in-law in a shooting near Lake Annecy two days ago, will have to be questioned, a French prosecutor has said.
Prosecutor Eric Maillaud told AFP that one line of inquiry into the deaths of the three family members and a French cyclist in a secluded car park is a possible disagreement over money.
"It seems that there was a dispute between the two brothers about money,” said Maillaud. “This seems to be credible information coming from the British police. The brother will have to be questioned at length. Every lead will be meticulously followed."
Meanwhile, local news website ledauphine.com reports that police have talked to Zeena, the four-year-old daughter of al-Hilli who survived the shooting on Wednesday afternoon, but she was unable to give many more details.
Zeena is currently under French police protection after she escaped death and then hid for eight hours under her dead mother’s body before she was found by police late on Wednesday night.
According to The Times, investigators had hoped she might be able to provide vital clues as to the circumstances surrounding the execution-style murders of her father, her mother Iqbal and her Swedish grandmother, who were all found dead in the family BMW, and local cyclist Sylvain Mollier, whose body was lying nearby.
Hopes of a first-hand account of the shootings must now lie with Zeena's eight-year-old sister, Zainab, who was shot in the shoulder and bludgeoned, possibly with a rifle butt. She is currently in a medically induced coma at a hospital in Grenoble, but is said to be stable.
Investigators have admitted they have no real leads and no idea why the British family were murdered.
But the newspapers are full of theories, including that the al-Hillis were the victims of the latest in a series of violent car-jackings in southern France, or that the murders were a professional hit, possibly associated with a family feud, or dating back to the al-Hilli’s escape to Britain from Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1970s. Ledauphine.com has dismissed the car-jacking line as a “total fantasy”, but the contract killer theory has been helped along by reports of the clinical way in which three of the four victims were shot in the head.
A variation of this theory, put forward by French police investigator Lieutenant-Colonel Benoît Vinnemann, is that the cyclist Mollier, who worked in the nuclear industry, had been the real target of the killings and the family were "collateral victims".
Meanwhile, the revelation by a neighbour in Claygate, Surrey that Special Branch had used his driveway to mount a surveillance operation targeting Saad al-Hilli for several weeks during the 2003 Iraq war, has proven fertile ground for speculation in the Daily Mail.
The paper claims al-Hilli had been known to British intelligence for 20 years and that British agents were sent to the scene of the murder within hours.
Al-Hilli worked as a mechanical engineer and owned a computer design company called Shtech Ltd which was registered at his home. According to his CV, his past projects include helping design a satellite for Surrey Satellite Technology and he has worked in the "aircraft, military and medical industries".
The Daily Mail adds: "The internet is awash with speculation - impossible to verify - that Mr Al-Hilli may have been working in some capacity in the spy world."
A Claygate neighbour interviewed on the Today programme thought this story was nonsense. Other neighbours have described al-Hilli as a "Mr Fixit", who was so nice that he would check with neighbours if it was OK to mow his lawn so as not to upset anyone.
George Aicolina, a neighbour, told The Times: "This doesn't add up. He had no enemies. He's no Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."
James Matthews said: "He was the sort of guy who you could call late at night to say something wasn't working and he would come round with an angle-grinder and stay until it was sorted. He was always ready to help. He was very skilled."
He added that the al-Hillis were "a perfect family".