IT is a murder that has baffled detectives and left friends and family of the victims unable to move on for nine long years.
Now The Sun can show emotional new evidence in the case of Surrey businessman Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, who were executed on a forest trail while on holiday in the French Alps.
All three were ruthlessly dispatched with “double tap” shots to the head by a specialized shooter who circled their parked BMW while dispensing death at the beauty identify near Lake Annecy in eastern France.
The merciless killer already pistol-whipped seven-year-old daughter Zainab and shot her in the shoulder, leaving her for dead.
Incredibly, her younger sister, Zeena, who was four at the time, hid under her mother’s body in a footwell and was found unscathed eight hours after the alarm was raised.
Yards away, police found the body of French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, who had been blasted seven times with the same pistol near the far away layby at Le Martinet.
French investigators were convinced the al-Hilli family were the target of the hit and that Sylvain had been killed for witnessing the bloodbath as he cycled by.
GODFATHER OF A GANG OF HITMEN
But experts called in to reopen the files have unearthed remarkable new evidence that could suggest Sylvain was the intended victim after all — and that the al-Hillis were just tragic passers-by.
Their findings led to the murder scene being cordoned off last month for fresh searches to be carried out.
Original probes focused on a financial argument in the UK between Saad, from Claygate, Surrey, and his accountant brother Zaid, who was arrested for conspiracy to murder in 2013 before being freed without charge.
A year later, police looked into dark theories that Iraqi-born Saad was killed over links to ousted tyrant Saddam Hussein and arrested a suspected Iraqi contract killer, who was also released.
Newly unearthed “inconsistencies” in observe statements have led investigators to question older daughter Zainab, now 16, again.
And The Sun can show an alleged godfather of a gang of hitmen is now a serious “person of interest” in police inquiries.
Paris-based Frederick 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 his Paris Freemasons lodge — are said to have confessed to involvement in contract killings and spying on and assaulting victims.
In February, it emerged that bullets compatible with the Swiss-made pre-World War Two Luger P06 pistol used in the Alps murders were found at Vaglio’s home.
Said to be a former member of French spy agency the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, Vaglio was born in Annecy and had business links there.
Company records show he set up a PR firm in the town in 2009, which was wound up days before the al-Hillis were gunned down in September 2012.
Vaglio then formed a security and corporate intelligence firm called Meliora in 2016, registered to his parents’ address in the town.
Neighbours at his last known address in Paris recalled “a lot of cars coming and going, often with military types in them” and heard gunshots coming from the character.
Prosecution documents say Vaglio was offered £64,000 by a fellow Freemason to set up an attack on Marie-Helene Dini, a 55-year-old therapist and business coach.
Two former French security service guards were allegedly hired to kill her, but were arrested in a car outside her home last July armed with knives and a gun.
Vaglio is among nine people in custody over the alleged contract and he has also been probed about the £10,000 contract killing of French racing driver Laurent Pasquali, 43, over debts in 2018.
But it is his gang’s alleged link to another layby bloodbath that has triggered the most interest from Annecy investigators.
In a virtual carbon copy killing, French ex-secret serviceman Daniel Forestier was shot at a far away layby around 35 miles away, near Marcorens, France, in March 2019.
He was killed by a 9mm semi-automatic gun of the same calibre of weapon used on the al-Hillis.
And, as in Annecy, the expert killer left no DNA and only bullet casings at the scene.
Similarly to Annecy cyclist Sylvain, Forestier was shot repeatedly — at the minimum twice in the chest, once in the heart and once in the head — to make sure he was dead.
Police are now looking into possible similarities between the contract killing operations and the Alps murders — and probing motives for the murder of Sylvain.
At the time of his death, divorced welder Sylvain had just had a child with wealthy Annecy heiress Claire Schulz, whose family owns a chain of pharmacies worth millions.
‘SO MANY MISTAKES WERE MADE BY POLICE’
He was said to be excited at the prospect of extended leisure time after negotiating a three-year leave of absence from his employers.
Claire, 16 years Sylvain’s junior, had just bought him the £4,000 mountain bike he was riding when he was killed alongside the al-Hillis near the Alpine village of Chevaline.
An Annecy source told The Sun: “There has been talk about Sylvain and Claire being a bit of an strange associate, but they had just had a baby and were nevertheless together when he was killed.
“Claire had bought him a very costly new bike, and a member of the family suggested he should ride the trail up by Chevaline.
“It’s been confirmed that this route was not known to him — and it is strange that he should be on a road he had never been on before when he met his killer.”
Sun inquiries have established British police recently re-interviewed shooting survivor Zainab at the request of French investigators.
The teenager, now living with relatives at a secret address in the UK, confirmed she saw a single “baddie” who remained calm and specialized as he executed her family with multiple shots.
A French investigating source said: “There are numerous similarities between the way the Vaglio gang was said to function and the way the al-Hillis and Mr Mollier were murdered.
“It is absolutely crucial that the suspects’ possible links with the Annecy case are investigated in complete.”
Annecy magistrates, judicial police and Vaglio’s lawyers have all declined to comment.
Al-Hilli family friend Zaid Alabdi, a dentist from South West London who trained alongside Saad’s wife Iqbal, said last night: “I have 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 surfaced that it has been impossible for friends and family to get anything like closure.
“Only the other day I found myself watching an old video of Saad with his daughters in his arms and it nevertheless breaks my heart.
“I can only pray that we are finally getting closer to solving the mystery.”
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