Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

British Family Massacred in France, Likely Target of a Professional Hit

Saad al-Hilli. Family photo.

French investigators have confirmed that one or more professional hitmen were likely behind a quadruple-murder that took place last week in a forest near the French Alps. The short duration of the shooting attack, which lasted an estimated 30 seconds, and other clues indicated that it was a professional hit.  The main target was fifty-year-old Saad Al-Hilli, his wife Ikbal Al-Hilli, and mother-in-law. All three were British citizens who were originally from Iraq.

Each victim was summarily shot through the passenger-side windows of Al-Hilli’s BMW station wagon. The killer followed professional protocol by firing a single round to the head followed by a second shot to make sure that each victim was dead.

Al-Hilli’s two daughters, aged seven and four, were in the car during the shooting. The seven-year-old girl suffered a fractured skull and a bullet wound to the shoulder and remains in stable condition in an intensive car unit in Grenoble. The youngest daughter hid beneath her mother’s legs and was not discovered by authorities until eight hours after the shooting took place.

A former British Royal Air Force officer riding a bike stumbled upon the macabre scene shortly after the shooting. There, he found the body of the other cyclist who had passed the former RAF officer on the road just minutes before. The seven-year old who had been shot stumbled from the car towards him, before collapsing. He placed the child in a safe position and called for help with his cell phone.

The police left the crime scene undisturbed before forensic specialists from Paris arrived and only found the four bodies and the injured seven-year-old girl. The local authorities organized a search party in the surrounding forest and foothills for the four-year-old daughter when a guest at the local camp site where the family was staying reported that there were two children with the family. The police did not find the four-year-old hiding in the car until around midnight. She was then put in the care of a psychiatric unit at a local hospital.

The fourth victim was a cyclist and father of three who was almost certainly an innocent bystander. His body was riddled with over five rounds from what was likely an automatic rifle.

At least two witnesses saw a Peugeot SUV leaving the scene, driven by an adult male wearing a black shirt. Other witnesses said they saw someone on a motorcycle approaching the scene with the Peugeot SUV just before the shooing.

Mysterious Motives

Police outside the family's home in Claygate, England. Photo: Getty Images.

French police are investigating two possible motives for the murder. Investigators suspect that Al-Hilli’s ties to Iraq, from where he immigrated as a child, may be related to the killing. According to The Daily Mail, Al-Hilli, who worked as an independent aerospace engineer contractor, had been under surveillance by British authorities beginning in 2003 in the wake of the Iraqi invasion by U.S. and coalition forces. The Daily Mail also reported that Al-Hilli’s father had fallen out of favor with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and fled Iraq shortly before Hussein came to power.

Police are also investigating whether Al-Hilli brother, Zaid al-Hilli, might have a connection to the murders. According to French and British investigators, Al-Hilli was in a dispute over money and assets they had inherited from their parents, who died recently. However, Zaid al-Hilli’s whereabouts have been established in the UK during the time the murders took place. He also disputed claims that he was fighting with his brother about their inheritance, the London Evening Standard Reported.

Media Frenzy

The massacre has received much press coverage in Europe, especially in France and in the UK. UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande said the case was a priority and vowed to do everything in their power to track down the responsible, the Press Association reported.

“Both the French and the British family have been impacted by this terrible event and we will do our utmost to find the perpetrators, to find the reasons behind that event,” Hollande said during a visit to the Britain, while speaking through an interpreter. “Our police are co-operating and everything that is found will be shared.”

However, some media outlets have criticized the intensive media surrounding the case. The French media website Arret Sur Image said that the murder, while horrific, was overplayed since the perpetrator or perpetrators as well as the motive behind the killings remain unknown. The media thus remains fixated on images of a grisly crime scene and nothing else, which distracts the French public from more pressing issues of the day, such as unemployment, inflation, the economy, etc.

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