Ten years after the shocking murder of a British family in the French Alps, detectives continue to question a man about the unsolved 2012 murders.
In another twist in the long-unsolved case that has fascinated people around the world, the arrest was apparently prompted by a reconstruction of the horrifying events.
Line Bonnet-Mathis, the newly appointed prosecutor in Annecy, where the killings took place, wanted to recreate a timeline and check witness statements for contradictions.
Now, a 57-year-old married man from Lyon who was reportedly in the vicinity of the crime scene on the day Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and his mother-in-law Suhaila were shot dead at close range. is arrested by investigators.
He was arrested at his home early Wednesday morning in an operation that appeared to have been planned for months.
French media reported that the police questioned the man as a witness in 2015.
According to information released at the time, he rode his motorcycle down the narrow road that led to the isolated clearing where al-Hillis and a French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, were murdered.
On the day in question, it turned out, he had gone paragliding, a popular pastime in the mountains above Chevaline, the nearest village to the horrific attack.
But despite the global publicity surrounding the extraordinary case and near-constant media coverage in France, the man told detectives he had no knowledge of what happened in the remote car park at the end of the Combe d’Ire circuit.
As police hold the unnamed suspect for a second day of interrogation, victims of one of the most bizarre mass murders in decades hope this may finally be the breakthrough they need.
Saad and Iqbal al-Hilli left Claygate, Surrey in early September 2012 with their daughters Zainab and Zeena and their mother Suhaila.
They drove and towed Saad’s beloved caravan to a campsite on Lake Annecy for a family vacation. France has always been her favorite destination.
On the day of her murder, Saad had asked the campsite owner for recommendations.
They drove the maroon station wagon up a track behind the village of Chevaline and got off at a rest stop called Le Martinet to inspect a sign with trails.
Exactly what happened remains a mystery at this point.
Saad, Iqbal and Suhaila were shot dead in the car, the engine still running and the wheels spinning in an embankment of earth, suggesting that Saad had backed up at high speed to escape.
Seven-year-old Zainab, who was outside the vehicle, was shot by the assassin, pistol whipped and left for dead. Her little sister Zeena, then only four years old, crouched unseen under her mother’s skirt in the back seat, frightened but physically unharmed.
Also at the scene was a French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, who had also been shot. His bullet-riddled body was discovered on the ground yards from the al-Hillis vehicle, the windows of which had been shattered by shots from the Luger pistol the assassin had used.
First on the scene was a British cyclist, former RAF pilot Brett Martin, who has a holiday home near the lake and recalls being passed by another pedal rider, believed to be Mollier, on his way up the winding hill .
Thought at first that there had been a horrific accident, Brett approached the vehicle and only then realized what had happened. He switched off the engine and – without getting a signal on his cell phone – went down the hill to get help and sound the alarm.
After the murders, Eric Maillaud, then the French prosecutor in Annecy, said he was certain the answer to the crimes lay in England.
During a visit to the al-Hillis’ house in England, he announced that the apparently inexplicable assassination attempt would be solved there.
Mr Maillaud was particularly convinced that a long-standing feud between Saad and his older brother Zaid explained what appeared to be a deliberate, professional swipe.
The brothers had been at odds over the inheritance of the house at Claygate and reportedly their father’s will.
Zaid admitted that there had been a violent fight at the house where Saad lived permanently and that they were not on speaking terms at the time of the killings.
Zaid was arrested and interrogated in Guildford but later released without charge.
Now retired and living near Bournemouth, he has always vehemently protested his innocence and believes he is a scapegoat for the incompetent French police.
Sylvain Mollier, from the nearby small town of Ugine, was a keen cyclist, often tackling long, mountainous journeys on his expensive bike.
He was very popular locally and had recently started a relationship after divorcing the mother of his first two children.
At the time of the murders, Mollier had stopped working at a nuclear metals processing factory in Ugine, which employs many of the town’s citizens.
Investigators said he was an innocent victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and yet Mollier was shot dead with seven bullets, the most of the four dead victims. It is also believed that he was shot first, although some dispute this.
After the murders, it was revealed that his new partner, Claire Schutz, had recently given birth to their first child and inherited her parents’ multi-million dollar pharmacy business.
Although there has been speculation in France that this could be a possible motive for an assassination, there has never been concrete evidence of this.
Mollier’s family and the Schutz family have remained silent since the murders.
The French investigation has met with criticism from the start.
Little Zeena al-Hilli was only found by specialist forensic scientists from Paris the morning after the murders, still under her dead mother’s skirt.
There were also claims that the crime scene was trampled on and disturbed, leading to possible clues being missed – a claim denied by French authorities.
The police cordon was lifted just days after the killings for journalists and TV news crews, possibly too soon.
Meanwhile, French police wasted valuable time tracking down the al-Hillis’ passports, with investigators questioning whether the assassin had taken them as proof he’d done his paid job.
The identity documents were later discovered in the victims’ clothing.
And Eric Maillaud, the figurehead who was the focus of the investigation for the first four years, was criticized for initially dismissing theories that the al-Hillis could have been the collateral victims.
In addition to the man currently in custody and Zaid al-Hilli, other people were questioned as potential suspects.
Former Foreign Legionnaire Patrice Menegaldo, who knew Claire Schutz, committed suicide after being questioned as a witness without being arrested.
Ex-cop Eric Devouassoux was questioned after a massive arsenal of weapons was found on his property in the area, but he was later cleared of any involvement.
Nordahl Lelandais, possibly France’s worst serial killer, was also questioned but excluded.
An Iraqi prisoner, identified only as Mr S., was also questioned after claiming he was paid to kill the al-Hillis, but this too was ruled out.
Eyewitnesses at the campsite reported that Saad al-Hilli had a mysterious, heated conversation with a man said to be from the Balkans the night before he died, but that person was never identified.
Chevaline residents spoke of a car coming down the hill at high speed and a motorcycle, but there was no CCTV in the rural area, making it extremely difficult for detectives to get a positive identification.
Two forest workers spotted a motorcyclist above the parking lot and asked him to leave as motorized vehicles are not allowed there. Brett Martin said the same motorcyclist passed him as he was pedaling uphill. From the information provided by the two workers, the police were able to put together an Efit picture showing a man with a distinctive helmet.
The assassin used an antique Luger P06 pistol, a type previously used by the Swiss military. Part of the handle fell off and was found at the scene. Tracking the weapon was an almost impossible task, as thousands of ex-servicemen in nearby Switzerland could keep theirs after national service. Ballistic investigations also presented unusual challenges.
Curiously, Saad al-Hilli traveled to France on holiday with his laptop and a thick wad of important documents, including papers on his father’s Swiss bank account in Geneva, just 40 minutes away.