Celebrate! Rave reviews for Skyfall, although I have one tiny fear about the film being described as a kind of Christopher Nolan take. Should Bond have depth? And I hear no reference to the theme music returning, although Q at least does.
The title song is terrific and the second trailer, above, looks great. Much is expected of Javier Bardem, and we’ve told the great man delivers.
Rupert Murdoch has one of the most interesting Twitter accounts in the news business. I just wish my boss would stop tweeting stuff that I agree with, because it will just feed the cynics. May I say I wrote tomorrow’s second column (including the phrase “under the bus") before I saw his stuff on Biden and Benghazi. . I think Benghazi could be the killer blow, representing not just a terrible failure on its own terms but a deadly symbol of what’s wrong with Obama’s Middle East policy generally:
Let me repeat: Nauru has failed...
TWO suspected asylum seeker boats with more than 150 people on board have been intercepted by Australian authorities.
On Saturday, ACV Hervey Bay intercepted a vessel with 49 people northwest of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, while HMAS Bundaberg intercepted another boat with 104 passengers off Christmas Island.
THE Australian navy has gone to the assistance of a suspected asylum seeker boat carrying up to 200 people.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said patrol boats HMAS Bundaberg and HMAS Wollongong, operating under the coordination of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), rendered assistance to the vessel north east of Christmas Island last night.Initial indications suggest there were 188 people on board, he said.
Now we can all smirk.
A perfect endorsement of a political smear campaign by hypocrites:
PRIME Minister Julia Gillard’s scathing speech against sexism won unlikely backing from controversial former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who said history was on her side.
Tyson, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 1992 for raping an 18-year-old woman, said he watched Ms Gillard’s speech against misogyny on television in Australia, where he is on a speaking tour and thought she had a point.
(Thanks to reader Dani.)
Gillard cries sexism. The real story.
Political pollster and campaign genius Mark Textor on the Gillard speech - will it work?
Amanda Vanstone and John Della Bosca debate:
And thanking Indonesia, plus the AWU scandal:
On Channel 10 again at 4.30pm.
(This is the only open thread today.)
JULIA Gillard doesn’t have enough men in her life. Male voters, that is…Since the 2010 election, according to Nielsen polling, Labor’s primary vote has been 3 points higher, on average, among women than among men (32 to 29 per cent)…Gillard’s approval has been an average of 7 points lower among men than women (36 to 43 per cent). Her man problem also comes through when people are asked who they prefer as Labor leader out of Gillard and Kevin Rudd: in September, Gillard’s rating among men was 31 per cent compared with 42 per cent among women, while Rudd was supported by 60 per cent of men and 49 per cent of women…Gillard is the country’s first female PM. And her arrival in power saw the re-emergence, in different form, of a gender divide that had disappeared…From the 1970s, the gender gap started to close. In 1967, it was 9 percentage points - meaning women were 9 per cent less likely than men to vote Labor.By the 1990 election (Bob Hawke versus Andrew Peacock), it was only 2 points.... But then along came PM Paul Keating and it jumped to 6 per cent in 1993…When you bracket Abbott and Keating together, it is easy to see what turns off some women voters - aggression…Once Keating had been dispatched, the gender gap fell to 2 per cent in the Coalition’s favour in the 1998 election, and then declined to nothing in 2001, 2004 and 2007. In 2010, it opened up again - to 7 per cent - but now it was in Labor’s favour, the first time that had happened in Australian federal elections…One big issue coming through from males in the groups is the two-speed economy, and whether enough help is being given to sectors that are suffering, especially manufacturing…
In general, Huntley says, it is hard to disentangle attitudes to Gillard as a female prime minister from people’s disappointment in the Labor government. The former emerged as a negative only after people felt she was not doing a good job.
I think it’s often unwise for the wives of political leaders to express political views, but “divisive” seems harsh when she’s actually reacting to the divisive
THE wife of the Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, posted a series of anti-Muslim messages on social media during the September race riot in Sydney.
The divisive retweets by Cathy Stoner included: ‘’A MESSAGE TO ALL MUSLIMS THAT THREATEN AUSSIES?! If you don’t like our freedom/democracy GO BACK TO WHERE U CAME FROM!!!!’’Another stated: ‘’Muslims can have 4 wives, stoning, beheading, genital mutilation, honour killings all in the name of Allah? Yep, religion of peace, I get it.’’
A separate message on her Twitter feed declared the ‘’Multiculturalism experiment is dead’’.
Is it really “anti-Muslim” to want those Muslims who threaten Australian and oppose democracy to leave? Is it really “divisive” and “anti-Muslim” to want the divisive program of multiculturalism scrapped?:
We should debate more and label less.
That vote could prove vital to Kevin Rudd:
PETER Slipper canvassed the option of quitting politics altogether - sparking a by-election - on the night he resigned as Speaker as he was counselled by Kevin Rudd.
But the Queensland MP could not stomach the idea of handing over his seat to the Liberal’s Mal Brough, even though retiring would reduce the pressure on his family.The long-standing and deep friendship between the former Speaker and Mr Rudd, who like Opposition leader Tony Abbott attended Mr Slipper and wife Inge’s wedding, was again on display on the night he quit his post.
Despite the venom across the political divide over the Speaker and the decision of the independents to force his resignation, MPs from all sides of politics rushed to counsel Mr Slipper after his tearful resignation speech on Tuesday night, including Mr Rudd and Liberal MPs Patrick Secker and Mal Washer, who later praised the former Labor leader’s compassion.
Legal costs are outrageous in this country, when simply defending your name can drive you broke, win or lose. Parliament should at least arrange indemnity insurance for all MPs, because Slipper is likely to get far more punishment than he merits if he loses:
FORMER Speaker Peter Slipper and his wife Inge-Jane Hall are desperately trying to offload two investment properties as the MP faces a mounting legal bill estimated at $450,000.
A shattered Mr Slipper has told parliamentary colleagues of his fears of a crushing legal bill, amid fears the court case involving staffer James Ashby could send him bankrupt…Federal Court judge Steven Rares last month ruled that Mr Slipper was liable to pay for an indemnity costs order which will require him to pay a substantial legal bill incurred by Mr Ashby.
Women’s Weekly was convinced Julia Gillard’s furious speech last week “has the whole world talking”. It was particularly struck by praise from one source:.
“No matter what you think of her politics, there’s much to admire in the manner in which Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, sets about Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition,” columnist Alex Massie wrote.
How important those few paragraphs in a Spectator blog proved to be in persuading journalists that everyone from American feminists to British conservatives were cheering Gillard.
On The Spectator blogs, Alex Massie directed readers to the video of Tuesday’s House of Representatives, writing: ‘’Anyone who admires the cut and thrust of parliamentary theatre and debate will enjoy these 15 minutes. Mr Abbott does not look best amused. But then he’s just been carved to pieces, so he wouldn’t would he?’’
Gillard’s thunder clap of lady-rage echoed east to west across the interwebs,from the tweedy corner of the conservative British magazine The Spectator, to the hip US femmo website Jezebel (who anointed Gillard a ‘’badass motherf---ker’’).
Same with Stephanie Gardiner at The Age, who went on to quote Massie at length:
Under the headline ‘’More than just a man’s bitch’’, in reference to part of Ms Gillard’s speech, the website for the British conservative magazine The Spectator also lauded the Prime Minister.
Reality check. So how did Massie come to take interest in Gillard’s speech? Did someone alert him? Why was he disposed to like it and to write about it? Who then alerted journalists here to Massie’s praise?
Well, one clue may lie in the fact Massie is actually friends with fellow Scot John McTernan, Julia Gillard’s chief media adviser:
McTernan is a most excellent spinner and strategist. Journalist should be a little more alert.
(Thanks to reader Alan RM Jones.)
Julie Bishop has been a powerful advocate for the Liberals these past few weeks, especially in the past one - and the reaction from the Liberal women she addressed suggests Julia Gillard did not speak for all women, as many in the Twitterverse bubble claim:
FEDERAL Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has called on PM Julia Gillard to withdraw her fiery comments made in parliament this week, in which she labelled Tony Abbott a misogynist.
“It is a vile slur, she should apologise to the women in Tony Abbott’s life, and she should withdraw it,’’ Ms Bishop said in a speech to the Liberal Party’s Victorian State Council in Ballarat today.Ms Bishop opened her speech - in which she accused the Prime Minister of hiding behind her gender - with an address directly to the party’s female members and candidates.
“You are here because of your qualities, you are here because you’ve been judged on your merits, you are not (here) because you’re part of a quota system, and the Liberal party is proud of you,’’ she said, drawing rapturous applause.
LANCASTER, OHIO – The Romney-Ryan campaign has seized on Vice President Joe Biden's assertion during Thursday's debate that Ohio-made M1 Abrams tanks are no longer needed. The GOP ticket began running radio ads and making automated phone calls in Ohio on Friday featuring the vice president's quote, according to Republican state communications director Chris Maloney.
"The military says we need a smaller, leaner Army. We need more special forces. ...We don’t need more M1 tanks. What we need is more UAVs,” Biden said while he sat opposite of Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, at the debate in Lexington, Ky. The vice president's words, which broke no new policy ground, were a reminder of the Pentagon's decision this year to halt the production line from 2014 to 2017 as the vehicle is redesigned.
Ohio is home to the only tank production site in the country, and M1 tanks were spotlighted during Ryan's first joint appearance with Mitt Romney after the vice presidential debate.
"When you say it's OK to impose these devastating cuts on our military…that we don't need any more Lima-built M1 tanks, what we are doing is we're projecting weakness, and when we project weakness abroad our enemies become more brazen," Ryan said to a crowd of thousands in the town of Lancaster. The critique, made in conjunction with more blistering remarks about President Obama's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, tied Ohio jobs with U.S. foreign policy.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who introduced the two candidates, made M1 tanks the central focus of his remarks.
"Joe Biden said a lot of interesting things, one was at a time of increasing danger all around the world," he said. "He said we ought to be cutting our military. Specifically, he said that we don't need any more M1 tanks. Did you hear that? Guess where those tanks are made, folks -- right here in the state of Ohio. We need M1 tanks because they're part of the greatest military on the face of the earth. They will ensure that we have a military second to none so that we can keep the peace. We need M1 tanks."
When Ryan campaigned in Lima, Ohio, in September, he called the Pentagon's tank proposal a "budget gimmick." The military has calculated that idling the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center would save up to $3 billion, but General Dynamics Corp. and Ohio members of Congress say it would cost more money to idle production than to keep it going at a slow click. House and Senate committees have passed measures to restore funding but critics accuse lawmakers of falling prey to political donations, pointing to the thousands of tanks being stored in California and their vulnerability to IED attacks.
The current issue of Newsweek features a cover story by the neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander, who endured a seven-day coma after bacterial meningitis attacked his brain.
Contrary to the assumptions of medical science, Alexander claims to have been fully conscious during this period—but conscious of another place. He says he visited heaven and reports several things from the experience, including hearing angels sing and speak.
Do angels speak with us? Leaving aside those who disbelieve, the Judeo-Christian tradition resounds with a loud yes. As I discovered while researching my book "Lifted by Angels," the point is deeply ingrained in the thinking of the early church.
Take, for instance, these words from the monk and theologian, John Damascene. Angels, he said, “take different forms at the bidding of their master, God, and thus reveal themselves to men and unveil the divine mysteries to them.”
And these from Isaac the Syrian: “[Angels] are our teachers,” he said, adding that our “development and illumination cannot come to pass without the divine vision received of angels.”
Using words like reveal, unveil, teachers, and divine vision cast the angels in the job of messengers. This is fitting, since that’s exactly what the word angel means.
According to the tradition, angels have other functions as well, but their primary task is to reflect the knowledge and glory of God upon creation and point us to the source of that knowledge and glory. And so we find the biblical stories of angels mostly concern passing news, explaining mysteries, giving warning, or encouraging the fearful.
Many of these stories are familiar to us:
*Abraham hears from an angel about the unlikely birth of his son, Isaac, just as Manoah and his wife hear from an angel about their boy, Samson.
*Jacob hears from an angel in a dream that he should return to his family.
*Moses hears from an angel speaking in a burning bush.
*Gideon hears from an angel who promises that God will deliver his people.
*And jump ahead to the greatest of all revelations, when Mary hears from the archangel Gabriel about the coming of Christ.
What does it mean to hear from an angel?
Angels are bodiless and spiritual, so how do they deliver their messages to people of flesh and blood? One answer is noetically—that is, through our thoughts. Angels can in a sense whisper, maybe even shout, to our spirits, minds, and hearts. That’s why in several biblical stories angels speak through dreams.
It can and does happen in waking hours, too. People talk about having certain passing impressions, moods, and imaginations. The early Christians knew that some of these thoughts were in fact angelic suggestions.
“The angel of righteousness is sensitive, modest, meek, and mild,” according to "The Shepherd of Hermas," an early second-century book. “[W]hen he rises up in your heart, he immediately speaks with you about righteousness, purity, reverence, contentment, every upright deed, and every glorious virtue. When all these things rise up in your heart, realize that the angel of righteousness is with you.”
Similarly, Clement of Alexandria dwelled on this a bit in his "Miscellanies." “[T]he thoughts of virtuous men are produced through the inspiration of God,” he said, adding that “particular divine ministers” contribute to “the divine will being conveyed to human souls.” By “divine ministers” he meant angels.
These are all examples of noetic communication, angels speaking directly to the soul of a person.
But angels are not limited to noetic communication or speaking directly to our souls. While bodiless and invisible, angels can condescend and make their presence palpably and tangibly known. They, said Basil the Great, become “visible, appearing to those who are worthy in the form of bodies proper to them.”
And so in Genesis we see Abraham and Lot offering water for angelic visitors to wash their feet while also carrying on conversation—and Jacob not only talking but physically wrestling with an angel.
How is this? It’s a mystery.
Augustine admitted difficulty in understanding how angels can speakinside us intellectually and spiritually and also to us audibly and bodily. But he nonetheless believed it. Scripture records too many moments in which angels have visibly, physically interrupted human life.
It’s impossible to speak to all of Alexander’s vision, but Christians should know that angels speak to us. As messengers of God, it’s one of their primary tasks, and the scripture and teaching tradition of the early Christian church testify to the fact.
Joel J. Miller is the author of Lifted By Angels: The Presence and Power of Our Heavenly Guides and Guardians, which explores the stories of angels in the scripture and early Christian writings. Visit his website,JoelJMiller.com.
BEIJING – A Chinese scientist says that humans used to eat pandas.
In a newspaper interview, Wei Guangbiao says prehistoric man ate the bears in what is now part of the city of Chongqing in southwest China.
Wei, the head of the Institute of Three Gorges Paleoanthropology at a Chongqing museum, says many excavated panda fossils "showed that pandas were once slashed to death by man."
The Chongqing Morning Post quoted him as saying: "In primitive times, people wouldn't kill animals that were useless to them" and therefore the pandas must have been used as food.
But he says pandas were much smaller then.
Wei says wild pandas lived in Chongqing's high mountains 10,000 to 1 million years ago.
Pandas don't eat much apart from bamboo.
A Texas grandfather with an affinity for cats has reportedly been exposed as the man behind a creepy Internet forum where users post unsuspecting shots of women and underage girls.
Gawker.com reports that Michael Brutsch, 49, was the main moderator for Reddit’s “Creepshot” forum, which sparked outrage last month for encouraging users to post “covert photos they had taken of women in public,” typically close-ups of body parts for voyeuristic sexual thrills.
A computer programmer for a financial services company in Arlington, Texas, Brutsch used the handle “Violentacrez” and has been dubbed the “biggest troll on the web,” establishing several forums on reprehensible topics like rape, incest and misogyny.
Brutsch, who told the website he stands by the content he posted, lives with his wife, a diabetes sufferer who is also an avid Reddit user, his son, two dogs and seven cats. Brutsch, who also has a granddaughter, has a son who is about to join the Marines, Gawker.com reports.
Asked if he had regretted anything he posted in light of being exposed by the website, Brutsch said: "I would stand by exactly what I've done.”
Estampidas reales del manuscrito real de París, siglo XIII, interpretadas por HESPÉRION XXI y Jordi Savall.
THE house that once echoed to the giggles of two bright, fun-loving little girls is silent now. The cream curtains are tightly drawn, the Home Counties-Tudor facade needs painting, and the lawn - freshly mowed just before the family left for their caravanning holiday - is overgrown and sprinkled with withered bouquets.
In the French Alps, time has also moved on. Bathed in glorious sunshine on the September afternoon when Saad al-Hilli and his wife Iqbal went for that fateful drive with their young daughters and their grandmother, this week the peaks were eclipsed by heavy autumnal rain.
Great torrents swept through the hilltop layby where the three adults were trapped in their burgundy-coloured BMW station wagon and massacred in a hail of expertly-directed gunfire, washing away any lingering traces of blood from the leaves and twigs on the ground.
To anyone outside the French police, it always appeared that the murder scene was re-opened to the public with incautious haste. Yet it still seems odd that, barely five weeks since the atrocity occurred, the embers and beer-cans left by mawkish sightseers are the only reminders of a crime that sent shock-waves through Europe.
More disturbing still is the recent admission by Eric Maillaud, the prosecutor leading the ‘joint investigation team’ that it could take ten years to bring the killer (or killers) to justice.
It has left friends and neighbours in the affluent village of Claygate, near Kingston upon Thames, fearing they might never know why this outwardly contented, and universally popular, British-Iraqi family were slaughtered.
‘It seems the police are just as bemused as we are,’ Julian Stedman, Mr al-Hilli’s accountant and neighbour, told me this week, after detectives finally got round to interviewing him a few days earlier. ‘I don’t know what’s going on, and the Surrey police certainly don’t, though it seems to have been left in their hands, predominantly. I haven’t seen anything from the French authorities; it seems they’ve given up, more or less.’
Together with a team of Mail reporters, however, I have spent the past week probing the mystery — talking to people who knew the al-Hillis, and the French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, who was shot dead alongside them, seemingly because he saw too much — and uncovered some compelling clues.
Three theories for the shooting
Mr Maillaud thinks the truth probably lies in Britain, and he has identified the three most plausible theories, each of which holds that 50-year-old Mr al-Hilli was the primary target.
One centres on an alleged feud said to have been simmering between him and his older brother, Zaid, 53, over the terms of the will left by their father, Kadhim, who died last year aged 91. Zaid, however, is not considered a suspect by the police.
The second concerns Saad’s employment as a design engineer sometimes working on potentially sensitive projects (for the past year, he had been contracted to a Surrey-based satellite company).
The third possibility is he fell foul of someone, perhaps over a business deal, in his native Iraq.
Mr Maillaud has said the ‘familial lead’ is no more deserving of interest than Saad’s job or the fact his family came from Iraq. But it doesn’t take a skilled investigator to tell us there are many more conceivable motives.
The murders might have stemmed from a random robbery or kidnap attempt, for example (though that hardly seems likely, given the chilling precision with which the victims were dispatched), or the family might have stumbled on something.
Experts in the ruthless machinations of Middle Eastern espionage have also presented an increasingly plausible scenario which has not been explored. We will return to this later.
Theory 1: The feud
First, though, let’s examine the supposed fraternal feud.
Once a wealthy gypsum factory owner and privileged member of the Iraqi elite, family patriarch Kadhim al-Hilli fled to Britain in the early Seventies to escape Saddam Hussein’s purge of prominent Shia Muslims.
Though his business was reputedly sequestered, he salvaged a sizeable chunk of his fortune and settled with his wife, Fahisa, and their two teenage sons, in Pimlico, West London, later moving 20 miles south to the more tranquil Claygate.
According to Gary Aked, who became one of Saad’s closest friends in the early Nineties when they worked together as young engineers, the brothers were very different characters.
Zaid, a trained accountant, was ‘serious and more solitary’, and ‘into making money’; Saad was ‘an outgoing, laugh-a-minute’ type who could turn his hand to any task and loved making things for the sake of it.
For many years they lived harmoniously in their parents’ house, pursuing separate careers but occasionally buying up properties together to renovate and sell; but Gary Aked recalls that Zaid lost money on an ill-starred investment in an ostrich farm.
In 1992, when he was in his 30s, Zaid married a nurse named Geraldine O’Reilly and had two children. Saad remained a stay-at-home bachelor until nine years ago, however. Then, profoundly saddened by the death of his mother, he went to work in Dubai, where he fell for Iqbal, an attractive Iraqi working as a dental nurse.
After a whirlwind courtship, they returned to marry at a Surrey register office, had their daughters, and settled in the Claygate house. Meanwhile, the brothers’ widowed father Kadhim moved to the Costa del Sol to live out his days in warmer climes.
It was soon after he died, in August last year, that the brothers fell out, according to several people close to the family — though this week a French police source told the Mail that Zaid ‘still completely denies any conflict with Saad’.
As yet, we do not know the contents of the will. Assuming Kadhim adhered to cultural tradition, however, he would have instructed his estate — which may have been worth £4 million and included the Claygate house, his apartment near Malaga, and property in Iraq — to be divided equally between the brothers, with a portion going to charity.
If that is the case, Zaid might conceivably have asked Saad to sell his prized, mock-Tudor home, where he had lived since the mid-Eighties and raised his family, and share the profits.
And who would have blamed him? There was no mortgage on the house, and its value has multiplied, so this would certainly have made hard financial sense.
So did Saad fear his brother might try to seize the property while he was in France? It would explain why, as was revealed this week, he changed the locks shortly before leaving.
It might also be the reason he kept an illegal Taser gun hidden in the house, though Mr Stedman believes he bought it on eBay for protection on a trip to Iraq, where he returned in 2010 to view the family’s estate.
Whatever the truth, I have uncovered new information that appears to highlight the deep enmity between the brothers.
It was to be found at the vast, multi-faith Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey, where Mr al-Hilli’s parents are buried and the three murder victims will be laid to rest together any day now, in a plot already staked out beside his father.
When the mourners file into the jasmine-scented graveyard they may wonder why, while most of the other tombs are elaborate, those of wealthy Kadhim and his wife do not have even simple headstones. Until a few days ago, when cemetery workers were told to scrawl their names on scraps of paper nailed to wooden stakes, their graves remained anonymous.
Why had they been treated with such indignity? Quite simply, I am told by a well-placed source, the brothers couldn’t agree on who should pay for the memorial stones, which can be bought for as little as £300.
I have repeatedly tried to contact Zaid for comment on all of these matters, but he has been unavailable.
Zaid, it must be said, is not regarded as a suspect by the police, and a friend of his father in Spain says he sounded genuinely ‘devastated and very distressed’ when he phoned to break the news, 24 hours after the murders.
Nor do Saad al-Hilli’s grieving in-laws appear to believe he was in any way involved — for last Sunday, Iqbal’s brother, Dr Ahmed Al-Saffar, accompanied Zaid on a visit to the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre in Queens Park, North-West London, to discuss the funeral prayer ceremony.
Theory 2: Sensitive information
What, then, of the other two central police theories: that Mr al-Hilli might have been passing secret information gleaned from companies he worked for to some malign regime or terror group; or been embroiled in some nefarious business activity?
Merely examining his CV suggests they can’t be ruled out, for his engineering acumen — much of it self-taught — has taken him into sensitive establishments, including the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory nuclear research department in Oxfordshire, where he reportedly worked in the Eighties.
If we accept the wisdom of expert colleagues, however, he was a never more than a small cog in any wheel, and information to which he was privy could be found on the internet.
‘He worked on Airbus, radiation equipment to kill cancer, and lately on satellite systems; but as far as I know he never worked on any top-secret projects,’ says Gary Aked, who spent four years at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston.
Several years ago, though, when visiting his friend for dinner, Mr Aked did see something that may prove to be of great significance.
Mr al-Hilli took him to the study, showed him a bank of four desk-top computers, plus a laptop, and told him how he used them to air his stridently anti-Israeli views in Arab chatrooms.
"Saad was a very passionate guy and this was something that concerned him,’ he says. "He thought the Jews were taking over America and the world, and tried to get me interested in a book about the atrocities committed by the United States on Arabs.’
After 9/11, he recalls, his views became still more extreme. In one breath he would say it was ‘pay-back time’; in the next he would venture that Israel had blown up the Twin Towers to provoke the U.S. into waging war on the Arab world.
The new theory: Mossad and the nukes
All of which brings us to the theory advanced by a respected Middle East security analyst, who declined to be named. He believes the al-Hillis and the French cyclist could have been conspirators in a plot to supply nuclear material to Iran — and been eliminated by state-sponsored Israeli assassins.
At first blush, this may sound the stuff of conspiracy theorists and spy thriller writers. But one commentator who thinks it is plausible is Roger Howard, author of several authoritative books on Middle Eastern affairs, the next of which will examine a chilling assassination programme carried out on European soil by the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
Though the French police have declared themselves open to the possibility that Sylvain Mollier, not Mr al-Hilli, was the intended victim, no one has openly suggested that they might have been associates, and therefore jointly targeted.
Mollier was not merely a keen mountain bike rider. He held a senior post with Cezus, a company based in the nearby small town of Ugine and owned by Areva, the giant multi-national that leads the way in the research and development of nuclear power.
A spokesman told us he had been employed for many years as a senior production manager specialising in nuclear fuel cladding made from zirconium — one of the metals Iran wishes to amass for its feared nuclear programme.
‘Iran is unable to produce certain key materials and metals that are critical to its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes,’ says Mark Fitzpatrick, of the ISS defence think-tank. ‘Export controls and sanctions have made it difficult to procure them, but Iranian agents are trying to exploit black-market niches — and access to advanced research and development work on speciality metals will help advance Iranian [nuclear] capabilities.’
Sylvain Mollier undoubtedly enjoyed such access, and given his professional contacts, Mr al-Hilli would surely have known where to find him. The Iraqi Shia Muslim would also have been aware of the Frenchman’s potential value to a cash-rich Middle Eastern power — though, as Roger Howard says, given the hatred he vented towards Israel in those chatrooms, money may not have been his motive.
Just supposing al-Hilli’s hastily-arranged family holiday was a cover for a meeting with Mollier, the reason why he had stashed up to £1 million in a secret bank account, 40 miles away in Geneva, would begin to make sense.
And such is the sophistication of Mossad’s intelligence, it is highly likely the tryst would have come to their attention of the agency, which has a track record for murdering perceived Israeli state enemies, among them Canadian scientist Gerald Bull, gunned down outside his Brussels flat in 1990 after developing the Supergun for Iraq.
Given that Mr al-Hilli’s elder daughter, Zainab, was pistol-whipped, shot in the shoulder, and left for dead (but is happily now recovering at a secret location), while her sister only survived by hiding beneath her dead mother’s skirt, there is one big flaw in this thesis.
Howard says targeting women and children has never been Mossad’s style, and it strains belief they would risk repercussions were they proved to have wiped out an entire family.
But he contends: ‘It is possible something went badly wrong, forcing them to make a snap decision between abandoning the operation and killing innocent bystanders.’
The author also asks an interesting question: is this suggestion any more far-fetched than the notion that the paths of two men, of similar professional backgrounds — one capable of supplying high-level nuclear secrets, the other sympathetic to a regime keen to acquire them — should cross by sheer chance, at the precise moment when the assassin struck?
Whether or not the truth behind this terrible mystery is stranger than fiction, the fear is that the French and English investigators will never unlock the answer.
But the Annecy massacre cannot be left unsolved for ever — if only because two orphaned girls will need to know one day what really happened on that mountain road.
FORMER Speaker Peter Slipper and his wife Inge-Jane Hall are desperately trying to offload two investment properties as the MP faces a mounting legal bill estimated at $450,000.
A shattered Mr Slipper has told parliamentary colleagues of his fears of a crushing legal bill, amid fears the court case involving staffer James Ashby could send him bankrupt.
This could force him to leave parliament early, paving the way for Opposition leader Tony Abbott to pick up another Liberal National Party MP, former Howard Government Minister Mal Brough.
The Labor Party has ruled out paying any of Mr Slipper's legal costs as it did for suspended ALP backbencher, Craig Thomson, who faces potential criminal charges.
Federal Court judge Steven Rares last month ruled that Mr Slipper was liable to pay for an indemnity costs order which will require him to pay a substantial legal bill incurred by Mr Ashby.
Despite a downturn in the housing market, Ms Hall has been seeking to sell two of the couple's eight investment properties on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
A house and a flat, only three minute's apart, near the top of leafy Buderim both sit vacant as Ms Hall and her family's Hall + Hall Realty urgently try to lure prospective buyers.
They have dropped $100,000 from the sale price of the three-bedroom house, owned by the Slipper family trust (Lyniter Pty Ltd), which is a stone's throw from the suburb's main street.
The couple, who want $445,000 for the non-descript low-set property are not expected to make much profit after buying it for $395,000 in 2007.
The 759 sq m property, marketed by Mr Slipper's mother-in-law Bev Hall, had been fetching about $350 per week in rent before tenants vacated.
Their advertisement on a real estate website claims the house, which has been listed since November, will be put it back on the rental market if it does not sell within two weeks.
"Opportunities abound with this quaint home on top of Buderim," the advertisement said. "2 weeks left until it goes back on the rental market."
Meanwhile, less than 2km up the road; a low-set two-bedroom brick unit Ms Hall purchased for $158,000 in 2003 has been on the market since May.
But they have since dropped the price from $280,000 to $269,000 for the unimpressive unit which sits in a complex of four.
Mr Slipper did not respond to News Limited enquiries.