Al-Hilli murders: Man arrested in Alps probe

Identikit picture of motorcyclist wanted Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The arrest followed the release of this identikit image of a motorcyclist

French police investigating the killing of a British family in the Alps in 2012 have arrested a 48-year-old man.

AFP is reporting that the man, from the Haute-Savoie region, strongly resembles an identikit image of a motorcyclist seen near the murder scene.

Officers are using metal detectors to search a garden 10km (6 miles) away.

Saad al-Hilli, 50, an Iraqi-born British citizen, was found dead in his BMW car; his wife Iqbal, her mother and a French cyclist were also killed.

AFP is also reporting that sources close to the inquiry say the man arrested, who is in formal custody, is a former police officer.

It reports the man, described as a quiet type who liked guns, was dismissed from the police in June last year.

Meanwhile, a garden in Talloires, a small town on the east shore of Lake Annecy, is being searched by police.

Mr and Mrs al-Hilli's two young daughters, aged seven and four at the time, survived the attack, which took place in a car park near Lake Annecy.

The older daughter, Zainab, was shot and beaten. Her sister, Zeena, was found traumatised but physically unscathed after hiding under bodies in the car.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption French police are using metal detectors to search a garden in Talloires, a small town about 10km away from the murder scene
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Under French law, police can hold suspects in criminal cases for up to 48 hours without charge

The body of the cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, was found nearby.

The identikit image of the motorcyclist was issued last November after French police said they wanted to speak to a man seen riding in the area between 3.15pm and 3.40pm shortly before the murders took place.

This followed a BBC Panorama programme broadcast in October in which a key witness - a forestry worker - was interviewed for the first time.

He described seeing a BMW 4x4 car close to the murder scene and told Panorama two of his co-workers saw a man on a motorbike near the scene. The biker lifted up his helmet and they saw he had "a bit of a beard".

Image copyright NI Syndication
Image caption Mr al-Hilli's car was found in an isolated forest car park

The man's helmet was said by prosecutors to be "very particular", one of only a few thousand such models worldwide.

Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud was quoted by AFP as saying the arrest was the result of witness statements that came in after the image was released.

He said there was no "direct link" apparent between the man and the victims.

Under French law, police can hold suspects in criminal cases for up to 48 hours without charge.

Hundreds interviewed

Mr al-Hilli and his family lived in Claygate, Surrey, and were on holiday at the time of the attack, along with Mrs al-Hilli's mother, Suhaila al-Allaf, who lived in Sweden.

Image copyright Getty/AFP
Image caption Police freed Mr al-Hilli's brother Zaid from bail last month

More than 100 police officers in France and the UK have been involved in investigating the case and about 800 people have been interviewed.

Surrey Police said the arrest was prompted by a line of inquiry in France and was not as a result of investigation carried out in the UK.

French prosecutors previously said the "reasons and causes" for the killings had their "origins" in the UK and they investigated an alleged feud between Mr al-Hilli and his brother Zaid over inheritance.

Zaid al-Hilli, 54 and also from Surrey, denied involvement in the murders and accused French police of "covering up" the real target of the killings.

He was released from bail last month after being arrested last year on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder.

Surrey Police said there was not enough evidence to charge him.

The motive for the shootings has remained elusive.

Speculation has focused on possible links to Iraq or Saad al-Hilli's work as a satellite engineer.

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