PAUL BRAC­CHI un­cov­ers vi­tal new ev­i­dence in the ex­e­cu­tion of a British fam­ily that’s still baff ling po­lice

Scottish Daily Mail - - Life -

YOU will prob­a­bly never have heard of Syl­vain Mol­lier. Few peo­ple out­side the small French vil­lage where he lived even know what he looks like. Un­til to­day, his pic­ture had never ap­peared in a news­pa­per or on TV.

Cy­clist Mr Mol­lier was orig­i­nally writ­ten off as col­lat­eral dam­age in the Alpine mas­sacre which claimed his life and the lives of three mem­bers of a British fam­ily, leav­ing two lit­tle girls or­phaned.

But new ev­i­dence seems to point to him be­ing the key to the mys­tery. As we shall see, it now seems clear that the 45-year-old fa­therof-three was the first to be gunned down. It has also emerged that he was shot seven times, more than any of the other vic­tims, who were each shot twice.

Mr Mol­lier was found next to a UK-reg­is­tered BMW es­tate car in a re­mote lay-by high above Lake An­necy on the af­ter­noon of Septem­ber 5. Inside the BMW were the bod­ies of en­gi­neer Saad Al-Hilli, 50, and his wife Ik­bal, 47, from Clay­gate, Sur­rey, and Mrs Al-Hilli’s mother Suhalia, 74.

Zeena Al-Hilli, four, es­caped un­hurt by hid­ing un­der her mother’s skirt. The only wit­ness was her seven-year-old sis­ter, Zainab, who sur­vived against all the odds de­spite be­ing pis­tol­whipped and shot in the shoul­der.

The mur­ders — one of the most shock­ing un­solved cases of re­cent times — have re­sulted in an al­most end­less list of con­spir­acy the­o­ries and pos­si­ble mo­tives. Over the past few days there have been yet more claims and reve­la­tions.

Here, the Mail analy­ses what we know and re­veals new ev­i­dence about Mr Mol­lier, who, un­til now at least, was thought to have been killed sim­ply be­cause he had wit­nessed the slaugh­ter of Mr Al-Hilli and his fam­ily.

But could it have been the other way round?

How the killings un­folded

DE­TAILS from po­lice re­ports leaked to the re­spected French news­pa­per Le Parisien and new in­for­ma­tion ob­tained by the Mail, give us a clearer pic­ture than ever be­fore about the or­der of the killings — and, by im­pli­ca­tion, the pos­si­ble mo­tive.

Of­fi­cially, po­lice say there is no sci­en­tific proof about the chronol­ogy of the ex­e­cu­tions.

That may be true, but we have been told that in­ves­ti­ga­tors who have ac­cessed all the avail­able ev­i­dence are con­vinced that Syl­vain Mol­lier was the first to be shot.

A source who agreed to meet the Mail in a ho­tel in Greno­ble last week has close links with the lo­cal gen­darmerie and has de­tailed knowl­edge of the bal­lis­tics file.

Mr Mol­lier, he says, was shot seven times in two sep­a­rate bursts of fire. The first two shots were to his chest, the third to his head. The an­gle and tra­jec­tory of the bullets mean Mr Mol­lier must have been ei­ther stand­ing up or still on his bike when he was gunned down.

But anal­y­sis of the four other bullets, all in Mr Mol­lier’s back and lower body, in­di­cate he was ly­ing on the ground when they were fired. Be­cause Mr Mol­lier was shot in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, po­lice be­lieve it is un­likely that all seven shots came from a sin­gle, con­tin­u­ous vol­ley of gun­fire; there was a gap, they think, maybe only a few fleet­ing mo­ments, be­tween the ini­tial and fi­nal shots, dur­ing which time mem­bers of the Al-Hilli fam­ily were killed.

In other words, the gun­man opened fire on Mr Mol­lier first, then dis­patched Saad Al-Hilli, his wife Ik­bal and her mother Suhalia, who had all wit­nessed the at­tack, be­fore re­turn­ing to ‘fin­ish off ’ Mr Mol­lier.

This ver­sion of events is not in­con­sis­tent with seven-year- old Zainab Al-Hilli’s ac­count of what hap­pened. Ac­cord­ing to the French news­pa­per Le Monde, she told de­tec­tives she and her fa­ther were out­side the car when the shoot­ing started.

Her fa­ther grabbed her hand and may have been shot in the back as he fled with her to the ve­hi­cle. In the con­fu­sion, he got in the BMW with­out her, locked the doors then re­versed at high speed and hit Mr Mol­lier in the chest.

As her fa­ther fran­ti­cally re­versed the car, Zainab says, it got stuck on an em­bank­ment, leav­ing those inside it at the mercy of the killer.

If Mr Mol­lier was shot in two sep­a­rate bursts of fire as po­lice sus­pect, he may al­ready have been dead or fa­tally wounded when the car struck him and then re­versed into the em­bank­ment.

Hit­man or lone psy­chopath?

UN­DER­STAND­ABLY, given the scale of the slaugh­ter, early cov­er­age sug­gested a pro­fes­sional ex­e­cu­tion by one more trained hit­men.

But the ev­i­dence sug­gests oth­er­wise. Clues left at the crime scene, po­lice are con­vinced, are ‘ not com­pat­i­ble’ with a pro­fes­sional killing by some­one, say, from a for­eign in­tel­li­gence ser­vice; the gun­man was ‘dis­or­derly’ — at least 11 stray bullets were found around the BMW.

All the vic­tims were shot with the same gun, which al­most cer­tainly means there was only one killer.

Parts of the gun, it has emerged, were found at the scene, sug­gest­ing there may have been a strug­gle be­tween one or more of the vic­tims and the killer, which re­sulted in the weapon break­ing.

It was a semi-au­to­matic Luger PO8, fir­ing 7.65mm am­mu­ni­tion, stan­dard is­sue for the Swiss army be­tween 1900 and 1945. Such an old-fash­ioned weapon — more than 60 years old — is not one you would nor­mally as­so­ciate with a ‘pro­fes­sional’ as­sas­sin. So could the killer have been Swiss, not French? Mil­i­tary ser­vice for 22 weeks is com­pul­sory in Switzer­land at 18. The weapon is­sued then is for life, or at least un­til the age of 50, when Swiss men are taken off the re­servist list.

An­necy is only about 20 miles from the Swiss bor­der, so such guns in that part of the world are not hard to come by.

How­ever the gun was ob­tained, there is a grow­ing con­sen­sus among lo­cal po­lice that the mur­ders were the work of a lone psy­chopath or ‘ tireur fou’ — ‘mad gun­man.’

Staff at French psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals, it can be re­vealed, have been ques­tioned by gen­darmes, as have mem­bers of shoot­ing clubs and hunt­ing as­so­ci­a­tions.

All psy­chi­atric pa­tients who may have been re­leased re­cently f rom hospi­tal, or are on day re­lease, are i n the process of be­ing tracked down.

The sin­is­ter mo­tor­cy­clist

OF­FI­CERS want to trace the rider of a black mo­tor­bike spot­ted in the area 30 min­utes af­ter the mur­ders.

He has aroused sus­pi­cion be­cause

Mys­tery: The murder scene and (in­set) Syl­vain Mol­lier he was stopped by two Forestry Of­fice of­fi­cials who or­dered him to leave af­ter ob­serv­ing him rid­ing on a track for­bid­den to mo­tor ve­hi­cles.

The rider is now the sub­ject of a line of in­quiry that has never been dis­closed: that he might have been in­volved in a road rage in­ci­dent with Mr Mol­lier.

A crim­i­nal psy­chol­o­gist drafted in by po­lice be­lieves this sce­nario was more likely to have in­volved Mr Mol­lier be­cause Mr Al-Hilli didn’t speak French, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for an ar­gu­ment to es­ca­late.

Of­fi­cers are now check­ing if there have been ‘road rage’ at­tacks else­where in France with any sim­i­lar­i­ties to the An­necy killings.

The Sad­dam money trail

DE­SPITE these more pro­saic ex­pla­na­tions, the con­spir­acy the­o­ries refuse to go away. The lat­est twist sur­faced at the week­end in Le Monde, which sug­gested money — pos­si­bly up to £840,000 — had been de­posited in the Swiss bank ac­count of Mr Al-Hilli’s late fa­ther, Kad­him, by Sad­dam Hus­sain.

Mr Al-Hilli se­nior was close to the old Iraqi regime, but is said to have fallen foul of the late dic­ta­tor in the Sev­en­ties when the fam­ily’s me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing busi­ness was seized. He sub­se­quently fled to Bri­tain.

But could it be that the split from Sad­dam was not all it seemed? Did the tyrant continue to pay Mr Al - Hilli se­nior for ser­vices ren­dered — or use his ac­count to salt away cash re­serves in case he had to flee Iraq? Was Mr Al-Hilli’s son in An­necy to pick up this money? An­necy, af­ter all, is less than an hour’s drive from the fa­mously dis­creet banks of Geneva.

The Le Monde ar­ti­cle quotes a French po­lice ‘source’, say­ing that the ‘Sad­dam Con­nec­tion’ had been un­cov­ered by Ger­man in­tel­li­gence agency BND. The money flow to and from Bagh­dad was kept un­der close scru­tiny by the BND be­cause Ger­many once had strong busi­ness

links with Sad­dam. The story, it should be stressed, has been of­fi­cially de­nied by the French pros­e­cu­tor Eric Mail­laud, who is lead­ing the An­necy in­quiry.

Even so, money — or rather a fam­ily dis­pute over money — has al­ways been at the fore­front of the in­quiry. Fol­low­ing Kad­him Al-Hilli’s death last year, his legacy led to a feud be­tween his sons — Saad and Zaid.

Saad, in fact, had put a le­gal block on his fa­ther’s will which ef­fec­tively pre­vented Zaid, who lives in Chess­ing­ton, Sur­rey, from in­her­it­ing his share un­til ‘un­known’ dis­putes had been re­solved.

Po­lice stress, how­ever, that Zaid Al-Hilli is be­ing treated as a wit­ness, not a sus­pect, in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. How­ever, they now want to ques­tion him over sug­ges­tions he tried to use an ex­pired credit card to with­drew cash from the Geneva ac­count shortly be­fore the killings.

Zaid Al-Hilli de­nies any part in the mur­ders. His fam­ily in­sist the an­swers lie in France, not in Bri­tain. ‘I think the French cy­clist was the tar­get,’ Dr Ah­mad Al-Saf­far, un­cle of Mrs Al-Hilli, said this week. ‘There is no rea­son for our fam­ily to be tar­geted on va­ca­tion in France.’

The mys­te­ri­ous Mr Mol­lier

SO WHAT is the truth about cy­clist Syl­vain Mol­lier? He lived with his girl­friend Clare Schutz in Ugine (pop; 7,000), about 12 miles from Lake An­necy, and was on ex­tended pa­ter­nity leave af­ter Miss Schutz, 29, a phar­ma­cist, gave birth to their son, Louis, in June. Mr Mol­lier left his home for the last time around 2.30pm on Septem­ber 5.

Much later that af­ter­noon, when he did not re­turn from his bike ride, Miss Schutz be­came wor­ried. Even­tu­ally, she de­cided to get in her car to go and look for him.

Mr Mol­lier, 45, had told her where he was go­ing, so she knew where to start her search. But her way was barred by a po­lice road block near the bot­tom of the Route de la Combe d’Ire, lead­ing up the moun­tain­side, a route pop­u­lar with hik­ers and cy­clists.

Miss Schutz told the po­lice she was very con­cerned about Mr Mol­lier; that he had not come home when she had expected and had not rung her.

Miss Schutz was asked to get a pho­to­graph of Mr Mol­lier and bring it to the po­lice sta­tion. When she pro­duced a pho­to­graph, her worst fears were con­firmed. Like many peo­ple, Mr Mol­lier’s pri­vate life was not en­tirely un­com­pli­cated.

He had two sons, Leo, nine, and Mathis, seven, from a mar­riage which ended in di­vorce more than six years ago, af­ter Mr Mol­lier re­port­edly had sev­eral af­fairs. Po­lice are sat­is­fied, how­ever, that the mur­ders are not linked to his per­sonal life.

But could his pro­fes­sional life hold the key? Mr Mol­lier was a man­ager at the Cezus fac­tory near Ugine, owned by Areva, the multi-na­tional that spe­cialises in the re­search and de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear power.

His job has given rise to spec­u­la­tion that he may have been in­volved in a plot to sup­ply nu­clear ma­te­rial to Iran — with Mr Al-Hilli, as a co- con­spir­a­tor — which re­sulted in their elim­i­na­tion by state- spon­sored Is­raeli as­sas­sins.

In­evitably, some peo­ple be­lieve po­lice have been too quick to dis­count this the­ory in favour of the sim­pler — and less po­lit­i­cally charged — ‘lone psy­chopath’.

Wrong place, wrong time

OF COURSE, it is en­tirely pos­si­ble that noth­ing in the lives of the vic­tims can ex­plain what hap­pened.

The lo­cal news­pa­per, Le Dauphine Libere, re­cently de­scribed the car park­ing area where the mur­ders hap­pened as a ‘re­mote spot used by drug deal­ers’, and pointed out that it had an ‘un­savoury rep­u­ta­tion’ with some mem­bers of the community.

In June, the skele­tal re­mains of a woman were found in the sur­round­ing for­est. She had been drink­ing and tak­ing drugs and had died of a sus­pected over­dose.

Might Mr Mol­lier and the Al-Hil­lis have stum­bled upon some­thing ‘un­savoury’ and paid with their lives?

The for­got­ten in­no­cents

PER­HAPS the most tragic as­pect of this ter­ri­ble story is that at the cen­tre of it are two trau­ma­tised lit­tle girls.

Lit­tle Zeena, four, did not see what hap­pened be­cause she was con­cealed un­der her mother Ik­bal’s skirt. It has now emerged that she owes her life to Ik­bal’s quick think­ing.

Po­lice notes sug­gest that Zeena was sit­ting in the back of the car with her mother and grand­mother when the shoot­ing started. With just sec­onds to spare, her mother un­buck­led her safety belt and shouted: ‘Hide!’

Zeena fol­lowed that or­der so well that po­lice who ar­rived at the murder scene did not dis­cover her for at least eight hours.

Even her sis­ter Zainab, seven, may never fully re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing she wit­nessed. Maybe, for their sake, it is bet­ter it re­mains that way — even if it means their par­ents’ killer is never caught.

Ad­di­tional re­port­ing: TIM FI­NAN and IAN SPARKS

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