A MAN said to be a former police officer has been arrested in France in connection with the killings of a British engineer and his family as they holidayed in the Alps.
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 5 September, 2012.
Passing cyclist Sylvain Mollier was also murdered.
Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud confirmed yesterday that police had arrested a 48-year-old man, from the Haute-Savoie region of France, in connection with the killings.
According to reports in France, the suspect is a “gun enthusiast” who was sacked from his job as a police officer last
He had since been working as a security guard at Geneva airport, 40 miles away in neighbouring Switzerland, they said.
The arrest is being seen as a major breakthrough in the investigation almost 18 months after the bloodbath in a remote beauty spot near the village of Chevaline.
Police swooped on the man at his home in the nearby village of Lathuile after identifying him from an identikit picture of a biker seen by witnesses near the crime scene.
The sketch shows a man in a black crash helmet thought to be a rare model used by French police during the 2000s and with only 8,000 made in black.
One source close to the investigation told French news agency AFP that the man was “a gun enthusiast, who lives on the fringes of society” and had a home in the area.
France’s Dauphine Libere local newspaper added: “The man was arrested in the village of Lathuile, near Chevaline, on Tuesday morning.
“He is believed to be a former municipal police officer who was fired in October for misconduct. He then found a job working as a private security guard at Geneva airport.”
Mr Maillaud said: “This arrest, which will perhaps not be the only one, is the result of witness testimonies received after the publication of the police sketch of a biker seen near the scene of the crime who is actively sought by investigators.”
Surrey Police said the arrest came from a line of inquiry in France and not as a result of the investigation carried out in the UK.
The scene of the murders in 2012 was discovered by cyclist Brett Martin, who found Iraqi-born Mr al-Hilli, 50, his 47-year-old dentist wife and her elderly mother dead in their BMW.
The al-Hillis’ elder 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 by emergency workers eight hours after the murders.
Since the deaths, speculation has surrounded whether the shooting was linked to the al-Hillis’ native Iraq, or Mr al-Hilli’s work as a satellite engineer.
Last month Mr al-Hilli’s brother Zaid al-Hilli, who was arrested in connection with the shooting, was “cleared” by Surrey Police after the force decided there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime.
The al-Hilli brothers were alleged to have been locked in an inheritance dispute centred on the £825,000 home in Claygate, Surrey, 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.