Two years ago today – July 19, 2011 – Belgian Xavier Balignant, 29, was shot to death. Mr Baligant, divorced, was driving home to the town of Pont-à-Celles in Belgium after a camping holiday in the Ardèche department of the French region of Rhône-Alpes. (France is divided into regions and each region into departments […]

Xavier Baligant

Xavier Baligant


Two years ago today – July 19, 2011 – Belgian Xavier Balignant, 29, was shot to death.

Mr Baligant, divorced, was driving home to the town of Pont-à-Celles in Belgium after a camping holiday in the Ardèche department of the French region of Rhône-Alpes. (France is divided into regions and each region into departments which in turn are divided into communes.)

On the rear seat of Mr. Baligant’s car were seated his two children, aged seven and five.

The three still had over 186 miles (300 kilometers) to drive and once they were on the A31 toll road the two children fell asleep on the rear seat.

When Mr. Baligant was nearing the town of Colombey-les-Belles beyond which the motorway was free, he pulled up in the Malvaux rest area.

It was going on for two in the morning and the rest area which consisted of just a public convenience and a phone booth was quiet.

Malvaux rest area

Malvaux rest area

Traffic moving in the other direction had another rest area, that of Faverosse, across the motorway.

Twenty-four trucks were parked in the two rest areas, their drivers, asleep in their berths.

At around 2 a.m. an employee of the motorway operating company APRR – Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône – patrolling the motorway heard shots. He thought they came from the direction of the Malvaux and Faverosse rest areas and immediately drove in that direction.

He found the lifeless body of a man lying in front of the toilet in the Malvaux rest area. He had been shot to death.

On the rear seat of a car parked nearby two small children lay asleep. They would later tell the investigators that their dad had told them that he was pulling up to go to the toilet but that they must stay in the car and sleep.

With the arrival of the APRR man some of the truck drivers were awakened by the patrol car’s flashing light and came over to see what was going on. The others had to be awakened later by gendarmes.

Not one of the 24 had heard shots: the tests on the hands of all for gun powder residue were negative.

Mr. Baligant had been shot four times. Three shots were aimed at his chest. The fourth, fired from above him, in other words he was on the ground, had hit him in the chin, traveled through his head and had exited through the top of the skull. The autopsy would show that the first of the three chest shots had been the fatal one. The final shot told the police that the killers or killers wanted to make certain that Mr. Baligant was dead and unable to talk.

Today the investigators believe that another vehicle had pulled up in the rest area at the same time as Mr. Baligant and an attempted carjacking had resulted.

When Mr. Baligant had refused to hand over the keys of his car, the carjacker had shot him dead. He had injuries to his hands which meant that there had been some degree of physical violence before the carjacker had started shooting.

Then, after having shot Mr. Baligant and getting to his victim’s car and seeing that there were two sleeping children on the rear seat, the killer had raced off in his own car, probably one that was old and in poor condition – and stolen – and which he had planned to abandon.

Or, if there were two or more carjackers, and there had not been two children in Mr. Baligant’s car, one would have driven off in Mr. Baligant’s car. The latter had left the keys in the ignition.

In that month of July there had been several carjackings in car parks in Paris’s more upper-class arrondissements. The modus operandi was always the same: the carjacker would threaten the car owner with a firearm, take the keys of his car and his credit card and having obtained the pin code and having withdrawn a large amount of money, would lock the car owner in the boot of his car to let him out only when out in the countryside.

The cars were not found. The police believe that they were ‘cleaned’ – registration plates were changed – and the cars were driven across the European Union’s open borders into Eastern Europe and especially to Albania where crime has reached endemic levels.

There has been speculation in the British media that Mr Baligant’s murderer was also that of Iraqi-born Saad Al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47 and her mother Suhalia 74, and that of Frenchman Sylvain Mollier, 45, on a lay-by close to the town of Chevaline in the Upper Savoy (Haute Savoie) region of France on September 5, 2012.  The Chevaline shooting, after almost a year, still also remains unsolved.

Mr Saad Al-Hilli

Mr Saad Al-Hilli

The French investigators however see no link between the two shootings and neither do they see a link between the firearms which had been used. Despite that both types of firearms allegedly used had once been used by the Swiss army – a 7.55 calibre Schmidt-Rubin K31 at Malvaux-Faverosse and a 7.65 calibre Luger at Chevaline – the French investigators say that there is a glut of firearms in Europe because of the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the end of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Automatic and semi-automatic handguns – pistols and revolvers – rifles, and even assault weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s can be bought at an affordable price if one knows where to look.

In 1997 alone during an armed rebellion in Albania caused when a financial pyramid scheme collapsed, there were an estimated 226,000 Kalashnikovs and another 25,000 machine guns circulating among the people.  Because of that rebellion there was a mass emigration of Albanians into Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Germany, and some of those weapons left Albania as well.

The French investigators therefore give little credence to the belief that the  killer of the Al-Hillis and of Mr. Mollier was a local gun collector who had decided it was time to see if his old Luger could still a job correctly.

There had been reports that the gendarmes were studying CCTV footage of the A31 toll road and the various rest areas.

At the entrance of the Malvaux rest area there was a camera which recorded at a 360° angle.  The scene of the shooting was 150 meters (492 ft.) from that camera. There were also other cameras filming on the A31 and at the nearest toll gates. However, the killer or killers could have arrived on any of the numerous small adjoining roads. As a trucker told journalists there is a lot of illegal activity on those roads and in that border region. He said that when a trucker sees a motorist hand a bag to another motorist he “looks the other way”.

The APRR guy, who has not been identified, but lives in the region’s town of Bicqueley (fewer than 900 inhabitants), needed post traumatic stress counselling.

APRR's motorways

APRR’s motorways

APRR employs 3,870 people who are responsible for approximately 1,430 miles (2,300 kilometers) of motorways and its cameras film on average 23,400 vehicles daily.

Their cameras transmit its footage ‘live’ to the Ops Room (Operational Room) of the motorway police (C.R.S. 30) in the town of Chaumont.

The cameras are to monitor the flow of traffic, speeding and other violations of the law – thefts, hold-ups, aggression, drug dealing – and well …murder.

APRR patrol men also visit a rest area every four hours when cleaners also clean the parking area, the toilets and the phone booth.

The question is: how come that after 2 years  the APRR’s cameras have not yet ‘talked’.

This we do not know, but in the August 1997 death of Princess Diana and her lover Mr. Dodi Al-Fayed, the story was that CCTV footage of the road Ritz Hotel acting security chief, Henri Paul, had taken that night, as well as the CCTV footage at the entrance and exit and in the Alma tunnel itself where Paul had smashed the couple’s Mercedes into a supporting pillar, would reveal what had gone on that night.


There were no cameras on that road and no cameras aimed at the entrance or exit of the tunnel or inside it.

There was one camera. This was a camera on Place de l’Alma at the exit of the tunnel, but it was switched off.

Why was that camera switched off?

The spy cameras on the streets of France’s cities, towns and villages are controlled by a special section of the police force – the Direction de l’Ordre Public et de la Circulation (DOPC). In a large city like Paris the DOPC has several Ops Rooms, each watching a particular area of the city. The men in the Ops Room of the Place de l’Alma area stop work at 11 p.m. and then the cameras are switched off.

Maybe the APRR’s cameras on the Malvaux rest area had been switched off: It was 2 a.m. anyway and the only activity on rest areas at that time of the night happens in the dreams or nightmares of truckers.


Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses

7-19-2013 at 09:18:09

Yes, R.I.P. Xavier

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7-10-2017 at 13:00:44

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