Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The hazards of cycling

Will Munny: Who's the fellow owns this s***hole? [pause]
Will Munny: You, fat man. Speak up.
Skinny Dubois: Uh, I... I own this establishment. I bought the place from Greeley for a thousand dollars.
[Will levels the shotgun, and speaks to someone standing behind Skinny]
Will Munny: You better clear outta there.
Man: Yes, sir. [scampers out of the way]
Little Bill Daggett: Just hold it right there. Hold it...! [Will shoots Skinny. Screaming, the women scatter upstairs]
Little Bill Daggett: Well, sir, you are a cowardly son of a b****! You just shot an unarmed man!
Will Munny: Well, he should have armed himself if he's going to decorate his saloon with my friend.

No, no, I don't think it was Will Munny / Clint Eastwood that did the awful killings in Chevaline, Haute-Savoie, but by the comments and theories that are spreading about this horrific and now high profile crime (read some here at the Huffington Post), he might be one of the suspects pretty soon, maybe because, as I write these words, there is no one.

A lot of theories have been mentioned, contract killing, theft attempt, the usual Intelligence Agencies and Secret Services involvement and "being at the wrong place at the wrong time". But we don't need to be creative, we don't need to add Hollywood type stories to a scenario just because the "main characters" have an exotic past and an unusual high tech day job.

So... if we discard the (fantasy) involvement of State owned agencies (and that would be an impossible riddle for Eric Maillaud, the French prosecutor, to solve), we end up with a narrative that will have to explain all the facts we know at present.

All we know is that there was a dramatic clash at the mid road of Route de la Combe d'Ire. I advise you to check this slide show for a visualisation of the scene. There were at least 7 seven people at the scene. Four people were killed with shots to the head, 2 children survived the event, one witnessed its immediate aftermath (why is there always a ubiquitous local resident British national ready to confirm what happened?) This "ex-RAF" witness is the main source of immediate information and a summary of his testimony ensues.

"I was cycling and was overtaken by another cyclist that went up that route. Later on I came across with him lying on the ground, a BMW with the engine still running and a seriously injured girl that come behind the car, stumbling and collapsing in front of me. I gave her first aid, then went to the car and broke the driver's window to stop the ignition??? I called the gendarmes for help. On the way up I remembered seeing a motorcyclist and a 4x4 coming down."

We have a maximum of four intervenients in this drama: the alleged killer(s??), a French cyclist, an Iraqui family (the al-Hillis) and an "ex-RAF" officer (still a total unknown that has now disappeared into oblivion). We can juggle all the combinations necessary to see who knew whom including the negligible probability that they all knew each other and decided to have a pow-wow on a remote part of France. Did the "ex-RAF" know the French cyclist? Or the French cyclist the al-Hillis? Or were they all strangers to each other?

If the only connection is the killer(s) and the al-Hilli's then whoever contracted them paid for the worst "professionals" ever. Used a load of bullets, did not kill the entire family (run out of bullets, how "amateurish") and caught an enormous media attention to this particular gruesome murder. No, he is no Jason Bourne... at all. How he/they were able to lure a war experienced Baghdad born engineer with his entire family into a remote French forest road is beyond any reasoning.

You can read on the sign that the "road is unsuitable for motor vehicles after 3Km". The topography is a winding, climbing road between two mountain ridges and if you go by car you always have to return on the same track. If this was a random hold up, the thieves/killers could have waited for a better "prey". A Range Rover is always a better "catch" than a BMW station waggon. It also remains unexplained why the French cyclist was killed and the "ex RAF" was spared as this last one was so close to the action and witnessed the get away vehicles.

A witness in a close by camping site describes hearing the gun shots. The "ex RAF" does not mention this at any stage. Another thing that puzzles me is the time frame between being overtaken by the French cyclist and the arrival at the scene, described as 30 minutes. If you are overtaken by a cyclist you do not take 30 minutes to pedal 2 Km of a road, 5, 7 minutes at the most.  In the quietness of the forest you should be able to hear the gunshots, so even being an "ex RAF" you would have approached the scene with extreme caution. Better, you would have called the gendarmes first!!!

So, after the above we will have to discard all the fantasies and stick to the obvious, because in the end that is what's left. And then we can propose a narrative... trying to find who was at the wrong place at the wrong time... it goes like this (allegedly, fantastically and speculatively):

The "ex-RAF" officer woke up that day not feeling great. Tired, with restless sleep, went through his morning in a  haze. Later decided to go for a bike ride as he normally does. As usual he put a gun in his ruck sack for self protection (an old Walter 7.65) because he is still not at ease with the surroundings and loneliness of the Annecy forests and tracks. The gun gives him some reassurance, peace of mind since those bad days he had when deployed in Basra, Baghdad  and Helmand. He has seen a lot of horrible things, heard a lot of horrible stories, lost a few friends and acquaintances in a war that still has not ended for him.

So he cycles. Puts his gear on including gloves and helmet, puncture repair kit, some water, a few snacks. The route he takes is familiar to him and he feels strong enough to tackle the long gruelling climb of the Route de la Combe d'Ire. It is going to be hard but he knows when he gets to the top he will have the reward of solitude, quietness and spectacular views.

Suddenly, before entering the road, another cyclist overtakes him. He looks back at him and taunts him, calling him in French "slow coach" and "come and get me!" "race you to the top" like comments. He tries to follow but the French cyclist is faster... he cannot catch him. However just one mile ahead beside a road lay by he sees the French cyclist stopped. He has a puncture and is a bit distressed because he forgot his repair kit. Now is the "ex-RAF" turn for a bit of derision. "Who's racing whom to the top now?"... the French cyclist does not see the humour of the situation, he is far from home and a long walk is not on his plans. He starts getting angry, a discussion progresses, temperaments flare, a few pushes and shoves... The "ex-RAF" is now tired and confused, bewildered, not being able to cope with this type of encounter. He recoils away from the French cyclist, goes to his rucksack to pick up the puncture repair kit and help... and he touches his gun... Red mist... then 2 shots! He stays there utterly confused...

Saad al-Hilli is a good family man. He is also a keen cyclist. He knows that there are a few good routes for cycling and heard that the climb of the Route de la Combe d'Ire is a bit of a challenge. So, after an errand in town he decides to take a look at it, a reconnaissance, on his BMW with his entire family. He approaches the start of the road and notices the sign of "road is unsuitable for motor vehicles after 3Km" but decides to see how far he can go on his car. 3Km won't take to long to do.

He goes slowly, the road has poor visibility, narrow, with dense pine tree forest on both sides. After a bend he sees a cyclist laying on the road and another with a gun in his hand. Shocking! He needs to act fast and get out of the scene as quick has he can. He cannot go forward, the road is a dead end and it is his first time there. Instinctively he decides to u-turn and reverses his car in a haze against a lay by but he does it too quickly and crashes on the verge. He changes the gear to go forward but the BMW has back wheel drive and ploughs the wheels on the soft, sandy verge. They are stuck.

Utterly confused he hears tyres screeching behind him. A brown BMW reverses into a soft verge and cannot move. He does not know who is in the car but still has a gun in his hand. The car is stuck, engine on. He now approaches the car and starts shooting, the driver first, then spots people in the back and shoots through the side windows. The victims are too terrified to scream. He emptied his first round now. All is quiet apart from the soft hum of the BMW engine. He reloads, goes to the French cyclist and shoots him in the head. Twice. Back to the car to do the same but the doors are central locked. With the butt of his gun he crashes the driver's window, removes the keys and unlocks the car. He notices a small girl collapsed on the bottom of passenger's seat that got hit by a stray bullet. He shoots the 3 visible occupants of the vehicle in the head then goes round the passenger's door and opens it to do the same to the girl. He points the gun to the girl's head but there are no bullets left!! He is now very, very tired, removes the girl from the car and starts hitting her head with the gun's butt. Then he stops! He cannot take this any more. He cannot kill a human being with his bare hands. He has seen too much violence in his life... He throws the gun away... forever he thinks. Then reaches for his mobile and calls the gendarmes. No network! Starts running downhill in a panic. He now needs all the help he can get. (allegedly, fantastically and speculatively)

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She's fit?

My apologies for this Julie... one day I may tell you the story.