IT is a murder that has baffled detectives and left the victims’ friends and family unable to proceed for nine years.
Now Surrey can reveal dramatic new evidence in the case of businessman Saad al-Hili, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, who were killed on a forest trail while on vacation. French Alps.
All three were mercilessly dispatched with “double tap” shots to the head by a professional shooter who circled his parked BMW, fending off death at a beauty spot near Lake Annecy in eastern France.
The merciless murderer shot his seven-year-old daughter Zainab in the shoulder with a pistol as well, killing her.
Incredibly, his younger sister, Zeena, who was then four years old, hid in a footwell under her mother’s body and was found fine eight hours after the alarm went off.
Yards away, police found the body of 45-year-old French cyclist Sylvain Molier, who had been blown up seven times with the same pistol near the remote Laby in Le Martinet.
French investigators were sure the al-Hili family was the target of the hit and that Sylvain was killed for seeing bloodshed as he was cycling.
godfather of a gang of hitmen
But experts called to reopen the files have uncovered striking new evidence that may suggest that Sylvain was the victim after all – and al-Hilis was just the tragic passerby.
Their findings led to the murder scene being closed for fresh searches last month.
The original investigation focused on a financial dispute in the UK between Saad, from Claygate, Surrey, and his accountant brother Zaid, who was arrested in 2013 for conspiracy to murder and freed without charge.
A year later, police looked into dark theories that Iraq-born Saad had been executed over links to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein and arrested a suspected Iraqi contract killer, who was also released.
Newly discovered “inconsistencies” in witnesses’ statements prompted investigators to question Zainab, the eldest daughter, who is now 16.
And it may reveal that an alleged godfather of a gang of hitmen is now a serious “person of interest” in police interrogation.
Paris-based Frederic Vaglio, 50, the former boss of a security firm, is currently on remand and facing life in prison for running a contract killing business.
Members of the Athanor gang – named after their Paris Freemason lodge – are said to have confessed to contract killings and their involvement in spying on and attacking victims.
In February, it emerged that bullets compatible with the Swiss-made pre-World War Two Luger P06 pistol used in the Alps killings were found from Vaglio’s house.
Said to be a former member of the French spy agency, the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence, Vaglio was born in Annecy and had business ties there.
Company records show that he founded a PR firm in the city in 2009, which closed a few days before al-Hilis was killed in September 2012.
Vaglio formed a security and corporate intelligence firm called Meliora in 2016, which was registered at his parent’s address in the city.
At his last known address in Paris, neighbors “remembered the coming and going of lots of cars, often military types” and heard gunshots from the property.
Prosecution documents say Vaglio was offered £64,000 by a fellow Freemason to assault the 55-year-old physician and business coach Marie-Helen Dini.
Two former French Security Service guards were reportedly hired to kill him, but were arrested last July armed with knives and guns in a car outside his home.
Vaglio is among nine people in custody over an alleged contract and has also been investigated in 2018 over the £10,000 contract killing of French racing driver Laurent Pasquali, 43, over debt.
But it’s his gang’s alleged ties to another labyrinthine bloodbath that has generated the most interest from Annecy investigators.
In a virtual carbon copy assassination, French ex-secret soldier Daniel Forestier was shot in March 2019 on a remote Laby, some 35 miles away, near Marcorense, France.
He was hit by a 9 mm semi-automatic gun of the same caliber as the weapon used on Al-Hilis.
And, like Annecy, the specialist killer left no DNA and only bullet casings at the scene.
Similarly to Annecy cyclist Sylvain, Forestier was shot repeatedly – at least twice in the chest, once in the heart and once in the head – to make sure he was dead.
Police are now looking for possible parallels between the contract killing operations and the Alps killings – and are investigating the cause of Sylvain’s murder.
At the time of his death, divorced welder Sylvain had a child with wealthy Annecy heiress Claire Schulz, whose family owns a chain of pharmacies worth millions.
‘Police made many mistakes’
He is said to have been excited by the prospect of extended leave time after negotiating a three-year leave of absence with his employers.
Claire, 16 years Sylvain’s junior, bought him a £4,000 mountain bike he was riding when he collided with Al-Hilis near the alpine village of Chevalin.
A source at Annecy told: “Sylvain and Claire have been talked about being an awkward couple, but they just had a baby and were still together when he was killed.
“Claire had bought him a very expensive new bike, and a family member suggested that he ride the trail through Chevalin.
“It has been confirmed that this route was not known to him – and it is strange that he must have been on a road he had never been on before when he met his killer.”
Granthshala inquiries have established that British police recently re-interviewed shooting survivor Zainab at the request of French investigators.
The teenager, who is now living with relatives at a secret address in the UK, confirmed that she saw a single “Baddy”, who remained calm and professional as she killed her family with multiple shots.
A French investigative source said: “There are many similarities between the way the Vaglio gang was told to operate and the way in which al-Hilis and Mr. Molire were murdered.
“It is absolutely critical that the possible links of the suspects with the Annecy case are thoroughly investigated.”
Annecy magistrates, judicial police and lawyers for Vaglio declined to comment.
Zaid Albdi, a family friend of Al-Hili, a south west London dentist who trained with Saad’s wife Iqbal, said last night: “I never believed that Saad and his family were the real targets of the gunman.
“So many mistakes have been made by the French police and so many theories have emerged that it has become impossible for friends and family to obtain anything like closure.
“Only that day I saw an old video of myself with my daughters Saad in his arms and it still breaks my heart.
“I can only pray that we are finally getting closer to solving the mystery.”