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French investigators ask if murder suspect is Alps serial killer

PARIS (Reuters) - French investigators have linked a man suspected of murdering a nine-year-old girl in Savoie with the unsolved killing of a soldier and are asking if he was behind other mystery deaths in the Alpine region, a prosecutor said.

In late November, a judge placed Nordahl Lelandais, himself an ex-soldier and in custody since September ,under formal investigation for the suspected kidnapping and murder of Maelys de Araujo. She was last seen at family wedding in Chambery in late August.

On Wednesday, Chambery Prosecutor Thierry Dran said 34-year-old Lelandais was now also under investigation for the killing of Arthur Noyer, 23, whose skull was found by a walker in September, after cell phone data put both men in the area where Noyer disappeared.

"We are going to look at all the disturbing disappearances which have taken place in this region," Dran told a news conference, without detailing which other cases would be re-examined.

Dran said that data trawls revealed that, after Noyer disappeared, Lelandais ran online searches using the key words "human body decomposition".

Lelandais, whose home is 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Chambery, admitted being in the area where Noyer went missing, but denied any involvement in his killing, the prosecutor said.

The new allegations against Lelandais bring an added twist to the de Araujo case, which has gripped France since she went missing.

Investigators have never identified a motive for the unsolved 2012 murder of Iraqi-born Briton Saad al-Hilli on a mountain road near the French Alps town of Annecy.

He was found shot dead with his wife and mother-in-law in what appeared to be an execution-style attack that the couple's two daughters survived.

(Reporting by Julie Carriat; writing by Richard Lough; editing by John Stonestreet)

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