The Chevaline Massacre, One Year On – by Tim Veater
More than a year has now passed since the shocking murders of four people at a remote lay-by, four Kilometres south of Chevaline in Haute-Savoie region of South East France.
On or about 3.30 pm on 5th September 2012, Saad al Hilli (50), his wife Iqbal (IAH) (47), their two daughters Zainab (7) and Zeena (4) from Claygate, Surrey, and Iqbal’s mother Suhaila al Allaf (74) a Swedish National, on holiday by Lake Annecy, were ambushed by one gunman or more, in a lonely mountain car park . Only the children survived the attack with varying degrees of injury. A French cyclist Sylvain Mollier (SM) (45) was also shot dead at the scene.
In the news-media-saturated world in which we find ourselves, violent deaths attract attention. This incident has attracted more than most, and still will not go away. A combination of factors made this inevitable: the stark contrast between the idyllic setting and the brutality of the event; the unexpected nature of it; the contrast between care-free holiday makers, and a merciless killer; the death of parents leaving children as orphans and their “miraculous”survival; the multiple and callous nature of the crime.
However, elements of coincidence, police blunder, high level political involvement, conflicting reports, misinformation and apparent confusion and lack of progress have added further intrigue, leading to suggestions of possible “industrial espionage” and even state involvement. In a sense, to the makings of a Poirot mystery, was added a John le Carré or Frederick Forsyth thriller. This is not wholly fanciful, as at least three individuals, either witnesses or leaders of the investigation, made specific reference to the murder scene being akin to a Hollywood production.
“Philippe Didierjean” who was not revealed for a full five days and rather remarkably much later became “Philippe Bossy”, said in an interview with Parisien magazine, “It was like one of those television shows that start with a murder but this time the actors were us and we didn’t have a remote control to change the channel.”William Brett Martin, the “RAF Pilot” said “If you’ve seen CSI Miami it was pretty much what you would imagine the set from CSI Miami would be like.”Even the French Prosecutor Eric Maillaud used the Hollywood analogy. Some might think that these assessments of American movie- making, may have been more literal than allegorical.
The circumstances of the crime scene that led them to describe it thus, was a BMW Estate car reversed into a bank, with its diesel engine revving wildly and at least one rear wheel spinning in reverse gear.
-1- Inside, were discovered by a cyclist, three people, all shot in the head. These were Mr al Hilli, his wife and mother-in-law. Outside the car there were two recumbent bodies – a mature man in cycling gear and a little girl of seven years – the former shot dead the latter injured and unconscious.
The Al Hilli family, originally from war-torn Iraq, had settled in Britain in the early 1970?s. There were strange elements to the trip: reports from neighbours of nervousness; new locks on the family home at 26 Oaken Lane, Claygate, Surrey; not informing the local school and taking the trip just when the children should have been returning; changing the Village Europa camp site, St Jorioz almost immediately upon arrival having booked to stay for a week; reports of frequent departures from the second site by SAH and meeting swarthy well dressed individuals; a trip to a Geneva bank, where £800,000 was allegedly deposited from Saddam Hussein in his father’s estate; the unlikelihood of the Martinet car park for a trip, particularly as there was no indication of intention to walk or picnic.
This was not all. It transpired that both SAH’s father and uncle had fared badly under the regime of Saddam Hussein and had been tortured and expelled by him in the early 1970?s. SAH himself was a qualified engineer with a background in nuclear physics, aircraft design and satellites and currently had links to both British and European defence industries. The Frenchman, Silvain Mollier, also shot at the scene, had worked for Cezus, part of the French Ariva Group, specializing in titanium metal technology for the nuclear industry with international links to Iran and Middle East. The British man who first came upon the murders, had a background as fighter pilot for the RAF and subsequent specialist advisory work in military and civil aircraft for Boeing and others.
But perhaps the most suspicious element of the case was the nature of the crime itself and the way it has been handled by the investigating authorities. This was no accident; no spontaneous or chance encounter; no unfortunate, stumbling upon a crime scene, as the French Prosecutor tried to persuade us. It had all the hall-marks of a well-planned, military-style operation, carried out with precision, deadly accuracy and absence of mercy, except as regards the children who survived, surely not by accident?
All the victims it transpired, were shot at least twice in the head –the so-called “double tap”. The Frenchman SM was shot up to seven times in total. SAH was also shot in the back, as presumably he tried to escape by rushing to the driver’s seat in his BMW 520 tourer estate. Further, despite the three kilometre access road, down which the killers would almost certainly have fled (before reaching a bifurcation in the road) they must have been confident enough of escape to be undeterred by the remote location. The fact that they did so, effectively without detection either then or later, suggests either incredible luck, police incompetence or official assistance.
-2- Indeed it is the response of particularly the French Prosecutor, Eric Maillaud (EM) that is most troublesome. On the face of it he appears a genuine and conscientious fellow but this is hard to reconcile with the way the case has been handled.
From the beginning he almost exclusively acted as spokesperson for the French side of the investigation, yet later claiming he was not in active charge of it. Latterly this has been confirmed. Apparently Colonel Benoit Vinnemann is leading the investigative team of about forty officers but EM will remain as spokesperson. Another team of about forty detectives is working on the British side. Both have had access to the most extensive and elite scientific resources. Despite this they report little progress after a year which is hardly credible.
So a year and a day following the killings (6th September, 2013) a press conference was convened in Annecy to report progress. Five individuals represented the French and British investigators: Annecy Prosecutor, Eric Maillaud; Col B Vinnemann; Captain Moulié;Detective Superintendent Nick May; and Detective Chief Inspector Mark Preston of Surrey/Sussex Police.
Prior to the event, D S Nick May said: “The tragic events of a year ago left four people dead in appalling circumstances. We remain committed to finding answers to what happened that day on behalf of their families, particularly for the two young girls who lost their parents. This remains a complex enquiry and we continue to have a team of officers dedicated to supporting the investigation.”
However, nothing new was revealed on the 6th September, 2013, other than vague theories and accusations directed at Zaid AH. This despite EM warning against such! He said “This affair is very complex and international. What we need is proof and not scenarios or hypotheses. We need something that will stand up before a jury.”
If this was an opportunity to reassure the public of a genuine, thorough and competent investigation, it was an opportunity missed. Even a detailed report of the press conference itself is impossible to find. If searching questions were posed, we cannot discover them. They have not been reported.
Is it not amazing that this press conference did not provide a full description of the FACTS currently established, including visuals of the lay-by, identifying precisely where the people and vehicles were located; the results of the forensics and ballistics, particularly where shell casings and lead shot were found and mapped and what injuries were identified; the vehicles identified by witnesses and their part in the events; and many other specific points such as how many, in what sequence, were there witnesses to the scene before the police arrived?
None of this information could conceivably prejudice subsequent proceedings and it would be easy to retain any specifics known only by the killers. None of the serious questions raised by me and others were answered.
And another weird fact. Even at this late stage in unsolved crimes, the police invariably are anxious to seek public help. Uniquely not in this case. Not one request for one iota of information! And still not even a photograph of three of the four of the victims and no explanation for this either!
I can find no report of the questions asked at the “press conference”. Were there any? Can anyone else find them? Yet more convincing evidence this not just an ordinary crime or investigation to which the press itself appears compliant.
What was reported however, was the scope of the investigation running apparently, in the words of the French Prosecutor, to “cubic metres”! The British side had carried out 2,000 “actions” including several trips to France, taken 560 statements, seized 5500 documents, 1600 exhibits and had compiled 1,300 reports. Zaid al-Hilli, 54 (Saad’s older brother) had been detained in June on suspicion of conspiracy to murder and re-bailed until October 23“pending further enquiries”. The French side had interviewed about 800 witnesses and taken 3,000 statements. The inquiry had led to 80 international demands for police assistance in 20 countries and been officially extended for another year. To date there has been no convincing explanation for the nature and extent (including Bomb Squad) of the search of the victim’s house nor why his brother and children should still require armed police protection.
As to anything new or informative, this was in short supply. The finger was pointed firmly in the direction of the arrested brother Zaid, whilst earlier stressing that that there was nothing to implicate him in the murders! Arrested but not charged after twelve months of intensive investigation? Twice bailed and allowed freedom of movement? This for a supposed dastardly killer of brother and in-laws? Oh please!
For the first time, the suggestion of industrial espionage and even state involvement was mooted but definitely not developed. “If you are talking about foreign states and industrial espionage, you could also be talking about secret service involvement,” Mr Maillaud said.
Col Vinnemann, who leads the French investigation, described Saad as having “an obsession” with Zaid appropriating his father’s estate and the “suspicion, hatred and the depth of the conflict between the two brothers”. Maillaud has described the disagreement as“violent” and determined this the sole reason for Saad changing his house locks before he left.
The weapon was confirmed as “a pre-war Swiss-made Luger P06 7.65mm Parabellum, fired 21 times, including twice into the heads of the three members of the Hilli family and five times into the cyclist, Syvain Mollier. The killer shot from outside the vehicle, a maroon-coloured BMW estate, shattering the windows, but without scratching the bodywork. In all, 17 of the shots hit a human target. With each gun magazine carrying eight bullets, the assassin would have had to reload the weapon at least twice”.
He added, “I would not use the term professional gunman … but he was certainly what I would call a hardened gunman, experienced in situations of stress,” Maillaud said. “All we know is that there was one killer and he knew what he was doing: he was able to hit a moving target and change magazines, but we have no idea of his exact profile”.
He dismissed newspaper reports that the victims were gunned down by a hit-man from the former Yugoslavia as “pure speculation” and said the idea of a “lone wolf” killer or that the Hilli’s had stumbled across a drug or arms deal as “still being investigated, but lower down the list of hypotheses”.
What was notable by it’s absence however was any attempt to explain mistakes or clarify still unresolved unanswered questions. For example why did Eric Maillaud provide false information regarding the initial 3.48 telephone call? It wasn’t made by WB Martin as he claimed, neither can his subsequent changed account that it was made by Philippe “Didierjean” be made to fit the time line. Similarly, why did he lie about the latter’s name, if the later Swiss report that it was in fact “Bossy”, is correct?
Why no clarification or explanation relating to the early reports about a 4×4 and motor bike? At first EM reported WBM had given a “detailed account” about the vehicles. Later WBM claimed he could remember very little detail. EM then announced this was in fact a Forestry Department vehicle without explaining how this could pass WBM both up and down the road, why inexplicably, it took so long to identify it or why, its occupants could add nothing useful to the investigation despite passing the murder scene at precisely the critical time. Then after throwing buckets of water on the 4×4 earlier sought variously described as a Mitsubishi Pajero or Peugeot varying in colour from black to white, nearly seven months later the British police put out an appeal for a “dark coloured BMW X5”! Yet at the press conference no explanation is given for this apparent confusion or any results from the appeals. This is quite extraordinary.
Nor is there any clarification as to why the French police proposed a quite irrational interpretation of the tyre marks so clearly left in the car park. These were said to been created by SAH’s car when this was clearly impossible, both by virtue of geometry and sequence of events. It would have required SAH to get back to the opposite side of his car whilst under fire and injured by bullets and carry out a complicated manoeuvre, all within a 30 second time frame determined by the sound of pistol fire. Nor can the theory of SAH striking SM be consistent with the vehicle actually reversing in a limited straight line that must have happened. It is hard to find any justification for these fundamental flaws without concluding either incompetence or intentional misleading. Was it to remove the necessity of an additional vehicle and to support the preferred option of a “lone killer” so assiduously pushed for so long but now apparently abandoned?
Then we have the mystery of the weapon used, the bullets fired and the injuries caused. How in such a high profile case with the best scientific facilities could there have been such utter confusion? First fifteen bullets were fired, quickly increased to twenty-five but now remarkably reduced to twenty-one whilst a recent BBC report speaks of “dozens”! We have been told the firing was random by an amateur or madman. Now we are told it was targeted and precise with seventeen hitting human targets and no damage to the vehicle even when they were all moving. (So what are the obvious “pings” on the front windscreen and the holes in the door glass?) EM at first declared three out of four had been shot in the head which he later corrected to all and Sylvain Mollier said to have been shot up to seven times. Now it is five. But if five this would mean the three victims in the car were shot at least twelve times. What four times each or some other permutation?
All the bullet casing were apparently found in or around the vehicle. This flatly contradicts the French version of events that the shooting started at the other end of the car park. If the early visuals are to be believed, presumably based as they were on police information, and all the casings ended up next to the off side rear wheel, it is impossible to reconcile this with a Luger PO6 which ejects up and to the right of the shooter.
None of this adds up. However this does not stop EM being certain the gun was an old Luger and that at least two changes of magazine, eight in each, were required. This explanation certainly presents difficulties. The user would certainly have to be skilled and prepared. The magazines would have had to be readily accessible on his person and the continuous nature of the shooting in a 30 second time-frame does not support any delay or fumbling.
Not only were three magazines located and loaded without interruption but the killer also removed and stored them on his person or picked them up before leaving! Is this likely? It would be interesting to stage a re-enactment to see if the official interpretation is even achievable let alone choosing an obsolete weapon for such a high-profile killing, when so many better more effective weapons are available.
EM strenuously held to the view that SM, the French cyclist, was uninvolved, was not an intentional target and no meeting took place, yet the blood stains proved otherwise. Nor did his injuries support the idea that he was either shot when riding his bike or dragged along the ground in any way. WBM reported he was free of grazes. I suggest if he did have an impact injury, much more likely it was caused by the killer’s vehicle.
As far as the time line relating to victims, killer(s) and witnesses is concerned, this too has been subject to much variation from official sources. Surely after a year this issue must have been decided? Why is it not possible to supply this information to the public? Even at this late stage, we are still not sure who were the witnesses to the scene. Did the two female companions of Philippe Didierjean/Bossy actually stay away? Who is the recently admitted third male cyclist/witness? Why did the statements of PD/B and WBM differ in important respects? Why did the former assume the latter was responsible and attempt to punch him? Why did the French know and announce WBM as a ex-RAF pilot and hero, and allow him to leave the country immediately following, despite being the most important witness and chief suspect until being incontrovertibly cleared of suspicion? And what of the white Peugeot 205/305 seen leaving the area at high speed? EM has said it has been eliminated but surely an explanation was called for?
But perhaps one of the most sinister and intriguing aspects of the case still never officially discussed, are the many strange co-incidences of time and place.
Why was this remote location chosen, four miles south of the French township of Chevaline with all its etymological connections with the secret up-grading with multiple warheads of the British Polaris missile in the 1970?s? “Chevaline” also has the meaning of “Horse Slaughter”. In the “trade”, spies are sometimes referred to as “horses”. Then we have connotations with the classical “Trojan Horse”, which in more recent times has been applied to cyber espionage, most notably in the case of the very successful joint CIA/Mossad infiltration and sabotage of the Iranian Nuclear programme.
-7- Annecy happens to be twinned with Cheltenham where of course GCHQ is located. Geneva, the European base of the UN, was always regarded as a meeting place for East and West and a favourite place for covert interplay. It was also the location of Saadam Hussein’s notorious half brother for a decade from 1989, which according to Wikipedia was “believed to have managed clandestine accounts for the Iraqi president’s overseas fortune. This task was then taken over by a network of foreign brokers, since Hussein had decided that no one in Iraq could be trusted with this task.”
The location of the murders was at a place called “Martinet” in the “Combe d’Ire”. At it’s entrance there is even a warning in three languages that this is a “dead end”. At Martinet itself there is an information sign regarding the protected Bauges region in which there are wolves. Wolves and “being thrown to them” is a well known saying as is the notion in assassination parlance of “lone wolves” specifically ruled out by Eric Maillaud now apparently. “Martinet” is a smaller version of the Swallow family. “Bird watcher” is Slang used by British Intelligence for a spy. “Swallow, a term applied to a female agent employed to seduce people for intelligence purposes”. Martinet was also historically a French instrument of torture. As to Combe d’Ire – in English “Ire”, incidentally coming from ancient French, meaning “intense anger or wrath.” The route is dominated by the “Mountain of Coal”. Yes black as coal.
Now get this the event takes place forty years to the day of the Munich Massacre, when eleven members of the Israel Olympic team were killed by “Black September” activists on 5th September, 1972. (It also happened to be the 34th Anniversary of the start of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat at Camp David,Maryland opposed by many on both sides) Subsequently on the direct orders of the then Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir “Operation Wrath of God” was launched to kill all those associated with it. We know it lasted twenty years with many victims but did it last longer? Is the Chevaline killings in the “Valley of Wrath”, the remnants of a continuing programme of assassination (most recently that of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai and subsequently the “suicide” cover-up of Ben Zygier in Jerusalem in 2010) that demonstrates there has been no change in Israeli policy?
The more we know of the Al Hilli, Al Saffar and Al Allaf clans (so expertly unravelled in part by one “Blue Bird” on the Craig Murray web site) and their multitudinous connections with high Middle East politics, opposition to Israeli hegemony including Hezbollah and Western, specifically United States and British, Intelligence going back over generations, the more likely this explanation would seem. Nor is the Mollier family free of extreme left wing nationalistic political connections that have been largely ignored by the press, with EM determined to keep them out of the spotlight.
-8- As to the forty year anniversary of the attack, there are few more coincidences worthy of note. Forty is a significant number sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews but particularly the latter. There are many references in both Old (Moses obtaining the ten commandments etc) and New (Jesus was forty days and forty nights in the wilderness) Testaments and the Holy Koran. So not only is it an exact anniversary of a defining event that lead directly to a policy of State Assassination, it could hardly be more redolent with a multiplicity of meaning.
It is thought that religions adopted forty as significant from prior astronomical observation in Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian civilizations. The planet Venus forms a pentagram in the night sky every eight years with it returning to its original point every 40 years with a 40 day regression. The pentagram connection is reinforced by its mathematical descriptors: “Forty is an octagonal number, and as the sum of the first four pentagonal numbers, it is a pentagonal pyramidal number. Adding up some subsets of its divisors (e.g., 1, 4, 5, 10 and 20) gives 40, hence 40 is a semi-perfect number”. We need not look further than the American Dollar and defence establishment to see the significance of the pentagram.
Further, it happened just before the Jewish New Year, which this year happened to fall precisely on September 5th. It is called “Rosh Hashanah”. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) which usually occur in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. (Do I remember a particular military operation labelled “Shock and Awe”?) On the day the “shofar” – a ram’s horn – is blown which acclaims God as ruler of the universe and recalls the divine revelation at Sinai, where God made Israel his people and gave them the terms of his Covenant. It is also customary for many to recite penitential prayers at a river, symbolically casting their sins into the river in a ceremony called tashlikh.
In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah, it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed “to live.” The intermediate class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous; the wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living forever.” In terms of the Gregorian calendar, the earliest date on which Rosh Hashanah can fall is September 5. The last time this happened was in 1899 which is remembered in Jewish circles for the famous Mark Twain article in the New York Harpers Magazine in which he said the following:
-9- “The Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, and faded to dream stuff and passed away. The Greeks and the Romans followed and made a vast noise and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time. But it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all. Beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind.” It could hardly be more apposite today.
Finally, in another rather extraordinarily coincidental twist, forty is the atomic number of Zirconium the significance of which will not be lost on those who have followed this story. Used in the nuclear, space and aeronautic industries, SM and Cezus had specialist knowledge of its production and applications.
Are these idiomatic and chronological correlations, coincidental or causal? Are they significant to the planning and execution of this unique killing, full of anomalies, or purely random associations? Who can tell but they certainly raise the question.
So to sum up, the press conference on the 6th September 2013 appears to have presented no new information; answered none of the disturbing questions relating to the events and police response; suggested any convincing explanation of the brutal event nor sought any help from the public. As such it did nothing to counter suggestions of intrigue and cover-up and yet again the press appears to have failed to obtain answers.
The more cynical might describe it as being “more heat than light” – a public relations exercise in “plausible deniability” so favoured by intelligence agencies, east and west. Whoever was responsible, the French investigation in particular, has given the strong impression of adding to the confusion surrounding it.
“We have made great advances” in the investigation, said Eric Maillaud. If so, the press conference on the 6th September, 2013, gave no indication of them. END