France to release sketch of mystery biker in Alps murder case

PARIS (AFP) - Police will release an identikit image of a motorcyclist pinpointed by a BBC investigation as the possible killer of a British-Iraqi man and his family in the French Alps, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.

The case of Mr Saad al-Hilli, who was gunned down in September 2012 along with his wife and her mother in their parked car, remains a mystery. His two daughters survived the gruesome attack in which some 25 bullets were fired and French cyclist Sylvain Mollier was also killed.

A BBC Panorama programme on the tragedy that aired on Monday talked to two key witnesses, who both described seeing a motorbike and a BMW 4x4 close to the murder scene, and it pinpointed the motorcyclist as the likely killer.

Mr Eric Maillaud, a prosecutor in charge of the case in the eastern city of Annecy in the Alps, said the biker was wearing a helmet and had a beard.

He said a portrait of the man had been in the hands of investigators from the start, but had not been released for "strategic reasons." "We didn't want this person to go into hiding," he said, adding police would now release it to the public in the coming days.

One of the witnesses in the murder case, former RAF pilot Brett Martin, discovered the murders while on a bike ride, and told the BBC how he had seen a motorcyclist riding away from the scene shorty beforehand.

And in his first media interview, a French forestry worker also said he saw the motorcyclist, who pulled into the parking spot where the Hilli family were murdered.

He explained that his colleagues later talked to the man over a minor traffic violation, and described him as having "a bit of a beard." According to Mr Maillaud, these colleagues were able to "get a glimpse" of his face when he lifted his helmet's face shield.

Both witnesses also described seeing a grey British BMW X5 4x4 vehicle heading towards the scene driven by a man described as "slightly bald" with "dark skin, no glasses".

But Mr Maillaud stressed nothing so far designated the motorcyclist as the killer. "What we are saying is that the murders cannot be the work of just one man." The Panorama programme also carried an interview with Mr al-Hilli's brother Zaid, who was arrested by British police in June on suspicion of masterminding the killings.

The 54-year-old protested his innocence but admitted the pair had fallen out over their father's inheritance.

Mr Zaid al-Hilli suggested that Mr Mollier could have been the target for the attack and claimed French investigators were covering up the real motive for the murders to protect "very powerful local people".

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