Annecy Murders: So far more speculation than investigation
QESHM ISLAND, Iran. Photo from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Murder victim Saad al Hilli was mechanical design engineer with this company.
THE horrific murder of a British engineer and his family while holidaying in the French Alps has been displaced from front pages by the final emergence of the truth about even greater horrors that happened in Sheffield.
Nevertheless the killing of Iraqi born Saad al Hilli, his wife Iqbal, his mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf and a passing French cyclist who might have been a witness, with al Hilli's traumatised small daughters Zainab and Zeena
Some Dutch students reported a well-dressed man "of Balkan appearance", whatever that means, staying nearby. So far as we know Mr. al Hilli had no Balkan connections, but since the wars some of the gunmen have gone freelance and would serve any state or company willing to hire them so long as the money was right.
However staff at Viking Camping Europa have dismissed the Dutch couple's account:
She dismissed suggestions that Mr al-Hilli behaved oddly during his stay, adding: "There was nothing strange. All families leave the campsite at all sorts of times to run errands, go to the shop, organise activities, that sort of thing."
And she said comments about a mysterious man described as appearing "to come from the Balkans" were "ridiculous".
She said: "That was an Italian man who was here. He left and got on his plane as was planned."
But what was the background to this killing?
"The mystery of the murders of the al-Hilli family in the French Alps has its origins in Britain, the French prosecutor investigating the case said today".
Mr Maillaud listed the three possible leads as a family conflict over money; Saad al-Hilli's sensitive work as an aeronautic engineer; and – intriguingly – his "Iraqi origins".
"The fact that he was born in Iraq, that he had family in Iraq, of course that's something that is of interest and we are asking ourselves if there is a link between that and his death," Mr Maillaud said.
The prosecutor declined to elaborate but complained the French investigators were finding it difficult to work with the authorities in Baghdad.
Newspapers in the Middle East have been speculating for days that the killings might have some link with the billions of dollars concealed by the late Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Why just the billions said to have been salted away by Saddam Hussein, and not say the billions that disappeared from funds supposedly allocated for reconstruction by those who bombed and occupied Iraq?
An Iraqi friend had previously written to the newspaper giving her own thoughts on the "Iraqi connection":
Sir/Madame,It is very difficult to read the horrific details of the Annecy shootings, described rightly by many media reporters as ‘targeted assassination’. The fact that this particular vehicle was targeted on this quiet road, and the shooting in the head of the adults has all the hallmarks of a professional killing. I fear Mr Al Hilli’s Iraqi nationality is at the heart of this case.More 500 Iraqi scientists, professionals and academics (according to brussellstribunal.org) had been the subject of a successful targeted assassination very similar in nature to that of the deliberate slaying of Mr Al Hilli. What appears to be a concerted campaign that has not spared any community in Iraq, the assassination campaign started in Baghdad in May 2003 and continues to date. No credible investigation by any official party has ever taken place so far.In Iraq, the gunmen who carry out the killing (and they rarely fail) would often ask bystanders to move away, before they shoot to kill their targeted victim.While in Iraq where the Green Zone government’s least worry is to protect the lives of those who are best qualified to be critical of its performance, the assassins need not worry about leaving witnesses at the crime scene. In Europe it is a different matter, hence the assassinations of the other three adults. I call on the French investigators not to ignore this credible possibility, to widen the circle of their investigation and take the case to Baghdad. Who else benefits from the emptying of Iraq from the very section of its society that is capable of taking it forwards?
I am not sure whether her letter was published. It is now.
Another newpaper did focus attention on a possible connection with Mr.al Hilli's work:
Detectives investigating the shooting in the alps massacre are looking into whether Saad Al-Hilli could have been targeted over links to the defence industry.
Mr Al-Hilli was killed alongside his wife and mother-in-law last week. His daughters Zainab, seven, and Zeena, four, survived the killing.
There is growing speculation over the motives for the killings. French detectives are reportedly keen to question work colleagues of Saad after discovering that he was killed while working on a secret contract for one of Britain's biggest defence companies.
Mr Al-Hilli worked for Surrey Satellites Technology Limited (SSTL) near Guildford, and detectives are expected to ask colleagues about whether his work may have made him a target for assassination.
Mr Al-Hilli was part of a team involved in an undisclosed project linked to European Aeronautic Defence and Space. The company designs and launches satellites for clients who want an "eye in the sky" for commercial, civil or security purposes.
Less responsible commentators had no inhibitions about speculating on the facts, from self-claimed Luton Town "supporters" for whom it little mattered so long as they could rejoice that a Muslim and his wife and mother in law were dead,
to former British diplomat Craig Murray, as ever irreverent, but well-informed, if sometimes inaccurate:
Sylvain Mollier, the ‘passing’ cyclist, was in fact a nuclear metallurgist who worked for a French nuclear company called Cezus (a subsidiary of Areva). Cezus fabricates and processes zirconium into metal and nuclear grade zircoaloy for nuclear fuel assemblies – it also has other applications in aerospace such as components and ceramics for missiles and satellites. Mr Al-Hilli was also a skilled aerospace engineer, on what looks to be his first camping holiday.
What is the probability that two highly skilled engineers managed be at the same remote place, at the same time, yet still managed to end up dead as a result of what looks to be a military style assasination?
As someone else pointed out in The Independent comments, the deceased were found by a ‘retired’ RAF officer who, we assume, will recieve perpetual anonymity as a witness. If the police are looking for a motive, try an intercepted rendevous by a security service fixated on denying a hostile power illicit nuclear technology.
Craig Murray added:
I have only one thought of my own I want to add at the minute. Al-Hilli was a Shia muslim and had been on pilgrimage to Qoms in Iran. What if it is indeed true that he was in possession of no especial nuclear or defence secrets to pass on to the Iranians, but the Israelis thought that he was? The Israeli programme of assassination of scientists involved in Iran’s nuclear programme is a definite fact. It makes as much sense as anything else at the moment, as a possibility.
The only trouble is that the ex-RAF man has not received perpetual anonymity but has been named, as one Brett Martin, from East Sussex, and last night he was interviewed on BBC TV.
As for Saad al Hilli, he was not a nuclear scientist nor even a technician like Mordechai Vanunu who worked in a nuclear plant. All the same, his own field of design engineering linked to satellites might well be of interest to rival military powers, and the satellites themselves can be used for surveillance and intelligence gathering about both economic resources and military, particularly nuclear weapon developments. The connection might not be quite as Craig Murray is suggesting, but he does have a point.