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France shooting: Witness saw 4x4 and motorbike at scene


Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and Mrs Hilli's 77-year-old mother were all shot dead in a ruthlessly efficient execution-style killing inside their family car

Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and Mrs Hilli's 77-year-old mother were all shot dead in a ruthlessly efficient execution-style killing inside their family car

Police around the BMW at the scene of the shooting in woods near Chevaline in the French Alps

Police around the BMW at the scene of the shooting in woods near Chevaline in the French Alps


A MOTORBIKE may have been used by the killers responsible for gunning down a British family in a French Alpine beauty spot, it has been revealed.

A British cyclist, who is a former RAF serviceman, has told police he saw a green four-wheel drive car and a motorbike speeding towards the scene before he arrived, police said today.

It is the first suggestion of another vehicle being involved other than the 4x4.

The British witness, who gave a seven-year-old girl first aid at the scene, arrived after a French cyclist overtook him and was shot dead. His body was found near the British-registered car.

"He has a keen sense of observation. This could help us greatly," a source told French channel M6.

Eric Maillaud, Annecy prosecutor, told the local Dauphiné Libéré newspaper: "This case looks more and more like an ambush even if we are not sure this is the work of a professional."

French authorities were today investigating a possible family involving Saad al-Hilli, who was shot dead with his wife while on holiday, French prosecutors said today.

Mr al-Hilli, 50, was named as the owner of the BMW discovered in a car park near Chevaline in Haute-Savoie.

The French authorities said the killings appeared to have been carried out by a professional hitman because of the accuracy of the gunshots.

Mr Maillaud said a "family drama" had not been ruled out.

His wife Iqbal, 77-year-old mother-in-law and a passing cyclist were also shot dead.

The couple's seven-year-old daughter Zainab and her four-year-old sister Zeena survived but the older girl remains in hospital.

"This seems to be credible information coming from the British police," Mr Maillaud told a news agency.

Police were also expected to appeal for witnesses today after one described a dark green 4x4 vehicle at the crime scene, which was discovered by a British cyclist.

The rider, a former RAF serviceman, would have almost certainly seen the killer or killer's car as it fled, a police source said.

There is only one road to and from the crime scene, and the only other route would be through the mountain on foot or bike, he added.

However, Sylvie, an inhabitant of Chevaline, the village nearest the crime scene, told BFMTV she was almost knocked off her bike by a panic-stricken motorist in a white car on the road leading to the forest just after the attack.

“There was a very steep, dangerous bend and a person came round it the other way very, very fast, he was coming straight toward me and only just missed knocking me over," she said.

"He appeared to be in total panic and not in control of his vehicle. A white vehicle, a [Peugeot]. I saw it was a dark-haired man with a black shirt or sweater.”

Detectives have asked for international help from British and Swedish authorities to gather evidence to identify the victims.

A spokesman for Surrey Police said: "Surrey Police is currently assisting the French authorities and liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office following the deaths of four people near Annecy in southern France yesterday.

"This is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the French Police and we are unable to confirm any details about the incident."

More information also emerged about the quadruple murder this morning, revealing Mr al-Hilli, his wife and mother-in-law were all killed with two bullets each, indicating the work of a marksman.

Iraqi-born engineer Mr al-Hilli was shot first in the forehead before a second "coup de grace" shot was aimed to ensure he was dead.

Witnesses reported hearing just 30 seconds of gunfire and police on the scene found 15 spent bullet casings, with no stray bullets.

The French cyclist, who arrived at the scene after overtaking a British rider, was shot five times after being "in the wrong place at the wrong time". He was named as 45-year-old father-of-three Sylvain Mollier.

Eric Maillaud, the Annecy prosecutor, told BFMTV last night: "All the victims died from several bullets, several shots, and all have at least one bullet that has been shot in the head.

"All avenues are being considered, the most sordid, a family drama ... All avenues are being explored."

Autopsies on the bodies were taking place today.

Yesterday, it emerged Mr al-Hilli had expressed concerns to a neighbour before leaving for Le Solitaire du Lac campsite in Saint Jorioz.

Jack Saltman, 67, said: “He did say something to me which gave me cause to worry a little bit. Before he left he came round and saw me and asked if I would keep an eye on his house.

“It may be totally irrelevant if this was to be a terrible murderous killing.

“But I have told the police and if it is relevant they will have it and if it is not relevant then no one will ever know.”

Mr Saltman refused to elaborate further, but said Mr Hilli’s fears were “definitely not political”.

Zainab, a pupil at Claygate Primary School, was said to be “stable” in an induced coma in hospital in Grenoble after operations on her fractured skull and a gunshot wound to her shoulder.

Her younger sister, Zeena, was being looked after in a psychiatric hospital after spending almost eight hours hiding in the car with the bodies of her parents and grandmother.

Mr Maillaud said she was interviewed last night but had been unable to give officers any more details.

"We must treat with extreme caution the statements of a traumatised girl," he said.

François Daoust, the director of the National Gendarmerie's Institute of Criminal Research, defended the investigators who failed to find Zeena, 4, when they arrived at the scene.

"Firefighters and an emergency doctor arrived first. The doctor found four deaths: one cyclist and three adults in the car. He also noted the presence of this girl seriously injured outside. He absolutely did not see this little girl, who was hidden. He also heard nothing," he told Le Nouvel Observateur.

"The doctor had distinguished no sign of life. The police also filmed in the car, through the window, and nothing was visible on these images. There was no noise, no movement, and they did not even know that another child was missing."

He said that no mistakes had been and no French police procedures would be changed.

"The mistake is to believe that a crime scene must be processed in minutes in an emergency, and samples can be rushed. It's not possible. It would jeopardise the investigation," he said.

"We will not change protocols due to exceptional circumstances. We have never encountered a case like this, it is totally unique."

Mr al-Hilli, who was born in Baghdad, came to Britain with his parents in the 1970s to escape persecution from Saddam Hussein’s Baath party.

They lived in Pimlico, central London, where Mr al-Hilli’s father, Kadhim, also an engineer, set up his own factory.

The family moved to a house in Clay-gate in 1984, which became Mr al-Hilli’s own family home when he married his wife, a dentist, and had children. His mother died 10 years ago and his father died last year.

His brother Zaid, whose family live in nearby Kingston upon Thames, was unavailable for comment but a relation declined to discuss the deaths.

By Donna Bowater and Henry Samuel Telegraph.co.uk