Q&A: Shootings near Lake Annecy, France
- 4 November 2013
- From the section Europe
A multiple shooting in a car park near Lake Annecy has shocked and mystified people in the French holiday destination.
Here the BBC News website pieces together what we know of the crime that left four adults dead, a child badly injured and a little girl traumatised.
Where did the shootings take place?
In an isolated forest car park, 4km (2.5 miles) from the nearest habitation. The nearest village is the hamlet of Chevaline, located in countryside popular with walkers and campers near the lake in France's Alpine region of Haute Savoie.
Who were the victims in the car?
Two members of a UK-based family on holiday in France. Saad al-Hilli, an Iraqi-born British citizen from the English county of Surrey, was found dead in his BMW car along with the bodies of his wife Iqbal, 47, and her 74-year-old mother, who held a Swedish passport. French prosecutor Eric Maillaud said Mr al-Hilli's wife held an Iraqi passport. Their daughter Zainab, seven, was found shot and beaten. Another daughter Zeena, four, was found hiding under bodies in the car. While physically unscathed, she was "completely in shock and completely frozen", Mr Maillaud said.
Who was the fourth person killed?
Close to the car, the body of a cyclist was found. He has been named by French officials as Sylvain Mollier, a 45-year-old father of three who worked at a firm in the area. A second cyclist, a British ex-RAF pilot, discovered Mr Mollier's body when he came across the BMW.
When did the crime occur?
The British cyclist arrived at the scene at 15:50 (13:50 GMT) on 5 September. The car's engine was still running and he recognised Mr Mollier as a cyclist who had overtaken him on the road. After tending to Zainab, who was outside the car with horrific head injuries, the British man phoned emergency services at 16:00. When police arrived they did not see Zeena. She was only found at midnight when forensics officers opened the car.
Are there any clues as to the killer or killers?
Several witnesses reported seeing a car speeding away from the scene around the time the attack took place. According to the British cyclist, this was a "green or other dark-coloured four-wheel drive car". Police say they are looking for a right-hand drive BMW 4x4. The BBC's Panorama programme spoke to a forestry worker who said he saw both a British car and a motorcycle, suggesting the killer was not acting alone. French investigators have released an artist's impression of a motorcyclist they want to speak to. The sketch was apparently not circulated early on in the investigation for fear the man would go into hiding. Police believe an antique 7.65mm calibre Luger pistol was used. Ballistics tests on 25 spent cartridges found at the scene apparently showed the same weapon was used to kill all four people. Mr Maillaud said the victims had been "targeted" rather than shot in a hail of indiscriminate fire.
Has any motive been suggested for the attack?
Mr Maillaud has said "the reasons and causes" for the killings have their "origins" in the UK. He says he is convinced there was a feud between Mr Hilli and his brother Zaid over inheritance. But Zaid al-Hilli has denied arranging the murders and accused French police of "covering up" the real target of the killings. He remains on bail after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder. Earlier media reports asked whether it was a bungled armed robbery that the cyclist may have inadvertently interrupted. Another report said the attack may have been a case of mistaken identity linked to drugs but police say the car park was not known as a haunt of dealers.
Had the al-Hilli family been in France long?
Exact details of the family's stay remain unclear, as do their reasons for being on the forest road. According Le Dauphine Libere they arrived on 3 September and had been due to leave by the end of the week. Other reports say they arrived at the end of August. They were staying in a caravan at a campsite, Le Solitaire du Lac, in St Jorioz, 8km (3.14 miles) from Chevaline. A woman at the campsite, whose name was not given, said she had seen the two women out picking apples with the two little girls earlier on Wednesday. "It was the first year that they had been seen here," she added.
Why did it take eight hours to find Zeena?
The police who sealed off the murder scene were under orders not to disturb the bodies in the car before a forensics team arrived, Mr Maillaud said. Given the gravity of the crime, officers were dispatched from Paris, he said. Furthermore, the first police at the scene did not know there were two children in the family group until a link was established with the campsite. "Firemen, technicians and doctors all looked into the car through the holes in the windows but none of them saw the girl," said Lt Col Benoit Vinnemann of the local gendarmerie. A helicopter with thermal imaging was also used to inspect the scene but it did not detect Zeena either.
What is the condition of the two girls?
Zainab was shot in the shoulder and suffered head injuries, the French prosecutor said. She left hospital nine days later following an operation at a hospital in the city of Grenoble. She has now returned to the UK with her four-year-old sister Zeena. The girls were initially placed in the care of Surrey social services but a court has reportedly since ruled that they can live with extended family. They have both been spoken to by investigating officers and are said to have been traumatised.
What is happening in the UK?
More than 100 police officers in France and Britain are now involved in the case, and 800 witnesses have been interviewed. Searches have been taking place at the al-Hilli's family home in Claygate for evidence that could provide clues to the killing. The French judge and prosecutor leading the investigation have also travelled to the UK. Meanwhile two Surrey Police officers travelled to France in September 2013 to mark the anniversary of the killings. Det Supt Nick May from Surrey police said: "This remains a complex inquiry and we continue to have a team of officers dedicated to supporting the investigation."