French Alps killing: Mother's secret past uncovered

Roses at scene of the killing. Inset: Saad al-Hilli. Photo / AP file
Roses at scene of the killing. Inset: Saad al-Hilli. Photo / AP file

Police attempting to unravel the unexplained 2012 killing of a British-Iraqi family in the Alps have discovered that the mother, Iqbal al-Hilli, had a secret past.

Investigators have established that, unbeknown to her family, the wife of Saad al-Hilli lived in the United States between February 1999 and December 2000, during which time she was briefly married to a dentist 13 years older than her.

The dentist, identified by judicial sources as James T., died in Natchez, Mississippi on September 5, 2012, the same day as the Alps killing in which Saad, 50, Iqbal, 47, her mother and a French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, were killed.

The cause of death of James T. was officially registered as a heart attack.

"As far as Iqbal is concerned, we have discovered some surprising things and we still do not have the response to certain questions," said Lieutenant-Colonel Benoit Vinnemann, the head of the detective unit investigating the murders.

Eric Maillaud, the Annecy prosecutor who has overall charge of the probe, meanwhile revealed that a 35-year-old Iraqi national was detained last month in connection with the investigation but subsequently released.

The potential suspect, who had a substantial criminal record, was brought into custody on the basis of testimony from a fellow inmate of a French jail that the Iraqi had told him he had been contracted to carry out the killing.

He was released however after police established that he was not in France on the day of the murder and no link could be established between him and the al-Hilli family.

Around 20 French police officers are still working full time on an investigation which appears to have made little headway nearly two years after the extraordinarily violent attack in a woodland car park in the hills above Lake Annecy.

Investigators have repeatedly played down suggestions that Mollier may have been the target, arguing it is most likely he was shot after arriving at the scene at the wrong time.

Saad's elder brother Zaid al-Hilli was arrested and questioned in connection with the investigation last year before being released without charge. He has dismissed suggestions a family feud could have been the motive for the killing.

The Hillis' young daughters, Zainab and Zeena, survived the attack.

- AFP

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