It was like something out of a melodramatic TV series. The British Al-Hilli family – of Iraqi origin, with links to the hi-tech defence industry, allegedly embroiled in a dispute over a massive inheritance held in a Swiss bank account – gunned down in a remote, continental beauty spot.
The rear wheels of their car were still spinning when the grizzly incident was discovered.
A clear headed analysis of what is known about the murders appeared in The Independent on 25 October. In a telling detail, it says the body of the French cyclist also killed was dragged from where he was originally attacked and his arms ‘arranged’ around his body.
This backs up the latest police theory that it was a random attack from a stray psychopath. As do (unofficial) reports that the weapon was a WW1 Luger pistol, as issued to the Swiss Army and kept in soldiers’ homes. The Swiss border is just a few miles from the scene.
Judging by his TV performances chief inspector Eric Maillaud, in charge of the investigation, is a quick witted character, at pains to show he has an open mind. Even so, his latest contention – that if it was a professional assassination, it was a ’very badly done’ – looks shaky, if only because two months on there is still no definitive lead.
The BBC also said the body of the cyclist could have been run over by Mr Al-Hilli’s car as he tried to escape the scene. Further investigations centre on the family history in Iraq and on more ballistics tests.
In the absence of a specific threat it would be ridiculous to advise against travel to Annecy. Certainly no further incidents of this type have occurred. Early reports that ‘bandit style’ carjackings were rife in the area were later withdrawn. But until police make concrete progress, a question mark must hang above this normally quiet corner of eastern France.
Exactly as with the Annecy shootings, feverish speculation greeted the news of a spookily similar incident in Brussels in October, especially after it emerged Belgian police had imposed a news blackout.
ExxonMobil executive Nicholas Mockford was shot four times shortly after leaving a restaurant in Neder-Over-Heembeek, a north Brussels suburb at 10pm on Sunday 14th October.
In fact, the incident was reported at the time. Like their French counterparts, Belgian prosecutors are very restricted in their dealings with the media. Often, as in this case, there is a complete ban on releasing any information at all.
The news only emerged in the UK when, two weeks after the shooting, police released a brief statement in an attempt to contact a potential witness. Since then the story has gone quiet again.
Mrs Mockford reportedly insisted it was a robbery gone wrong. The perpetrators apparently panicked after the couple fought back. ‘Carjacking’ is an issue in Belgium. There have been continuous reports from around the Channel Ports and motorways into Belgium, see here. The Foreign office further warns that ‘carjacking especially of up market vehicles remains a risk’.
Belgian Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke was implicated in an alleged carjacking in September, while a bizarre coincidence last year saw a couple from Liege, on holiday in Spain, reunited with the car ‘forcibly stolen’ from their driveway at home the month before. See here for official Belgian advice on avoiding carjacking.