Alps murder suspect in arms probe

Somerset County Gazette: Police in the French Alps are questioning a man over the murders of a British engineer and his family Police in the French Alps are questioning a man over the murders of a British engineer and his family

A former police officer arrested in connection with the killing of a British engineer and his family is suspected of arms trafficking, French investigators said today.

Saad al-Hilli and his wife Ikbal, from Claygate in Surrey, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, who lived in Sweden, were all shot dead on a remote forest road in Chevaline, near Annecy, on September 5 2012. Local cyclist Sylvain Mollier was also murdered.

French police arrested a 48-year-old , believed to be a former policeman from the Haute-Savoie region of France, in connection with the killings yesterday .

Today Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud told journalists that 40 wartime guns were found when officers searched the suspect's home and that of his in-laws, but not the murder weapon.

The man was arrested after an e-fit was released of a motorcyclist spotted near the scene, but the unusual helmet that the rider wore was also not found.

Mr Maillaud said police arrested a second man who is suspected of illegally dealing in firearms.

He said: "The weapon found was not the one from the crime, the helmets found were not those from the auto-fit portrait. However, the investigators found a large number of weapons, around 40 wartime weapons, some dating from the Second World War, also grenades, a shell, at his home and at his in-laws'.

"We also know that he appears to be involved in arms trafficking. We are not sure at this stage whether it is for collectors or organised crime

"The investigators also discovered yesterday evening that one of his friends was involved in this arms-trafficking business. This friend tried to escape when police arrived at his home yesterday and is in police custody."

Last month Mr al-Hilli's brother Zaid al-Hilli, who was arrested in connection with the shooting, had his bail cancelled by Surrey Police after the force decided there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

When asked if he was happy to hear about the arrest in France, he told Sky News: "Yes, I am happy, yeah."

Mr al-Hilli was asked whether this arrest, if it leads to a prosecution, would bring closure for him, to which he replied: "Well, of course, I mean, anything is better than nothing. We'll see what happens. We can't raise our hopes."

According to local media, the man arrested in France is a former municipal policeman who lived close to the scene of the murders in Chevaline. He was reportedly dismissed from the force last June.

It has been claimed that his mobile phone data indicate he was around the crime scene at the time of the killings.

Surrey Police said the arrest came from a line of inquiry in France and not as a result of the investigation in the UK.

The murders were discovered by cyclist Brett Martin, who found Iraqi-born Mr al-Hilli, 50, his 47-year-old dentist wife and her elderly mother blasted to death in their BMW.

The al-Hillis' eldest daughter, Zainab, was shot in the shoulder and beaten, but survived. Her then four-year-old sister Zeena lay hidden under her mother's body and was only discovered eight hours after the murders.

Since the deaths, speculation has surrounded whether the shooting was linked to the al-Hillis' native Iraq, or Saad al-Hilli's work as a satellite engineer.

In November, police released an artist's impression of a motorcyclist seen riding in the area between 3.15pm and 3.40pm on the day in question.

The man's helmet was said by Mr Maillaud at the time to be ''very particular'' and one of only a few thousand models worldwide, with a bottom section which opened laterally to reveal the lower face.

French police said the only similar helmet on the market is made by GPA and is an ISR model.

The al-Hilli brothers were alleged to have been locked in an inheritance dispute centred on the £825,000 home in Claygate, where Saad and his family lived after their mother died from a heart attack in 2003.

Zaid, who inherited half the property, claimed that in 2011 his brother began to demand his share of the house ''there and then'' and pinned him down during a row.

The two men never spoke again except through lawyers, but Zaid denied rumours that he had threatened to kill his brother.

He said he knew little about a Swiss bank account containing the proceeds from their father's business in Iraq and would not comment on claims that he attempted to access it using an expired card or tried to fake their father's will.

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