French police head to Britain to probe Alps murders
French detectives were on their way to London Friday in connection with the investigation into the brutal murder of four people in the Alps, including three members of a British-Iraqi family. FRANCE 24 covered the day's events.
French and British investigators probing the killing of three members of a British-Iraqi family and a French cyclist on a secluded forest road near Annecy insist they will investigate every lead “meticulously”. Saad al-Hilli, aged 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and a woman believed to be her 77-year-old mother were gunned down in their car on Wednesday while on a family holiday near Lake Annecy. Their two daughters, Zainab, 7, and Zeena, 4, survived the attack and have been placed under police protection. French cyclist Sylvain Mollier was also found shot dead near the family’s BMW.
- Police confirm murder victims were members of al-Hilli family
- 25 bullets fired at victims, each one hit by at least three gunshots
- Brother of Saad al-Hilli firmly denies conflict with victim, police say
- Detectives hunt green 4x4 and motorbike seen by witness
- French detectives head to London
- Autopsy and DNA results due
- ex-RAF officer 'remains key witness'
- Four-year-old daughter to head back to UK shortly
18.15 - Prosecutor Eric Maillaud wraps up a press conference during which he frequently became frustrated at the nature of questioning by the press. He will have to go through it all again tomorrow afternoon when another conference is scheduled.
18.00 - Press conference Brother of murdered Saad al-Hilli will be questioned by French police as a witness, prosecutor says. One French detective has already arrived in London to liaise with Surrey police and three others are on their way.
18.00 - Press conference - Prosecutor speculates older girl was struck on head because attackers had run out of bullets.
17.45 Press conference - Prosecutor says each victim was hit by a number of bullets - one in the head and atleast two others in other parts of the body. A minimum of three per person. Autopsies began at 2pm local time and are due to be completed later tonight.
17.40 - Press conference - Prosecutor tells media that the brother of murdered Saad al Hilli has spoken to police and strenuously denied earlier press reports that he had been in conflict with his brother.
17.30 - Press conference - Prosecutor Eric Maillaud clearly frustrated with questions from media about investigation, insisting it is "confidential". To clear up reports of vehicles Maillaud said the chief witness, the British cyclist, said he saw a motorbike and a green 4x4, not a white one. But Maillaud admitted "everyone has a 4x4 in the Haute-Savoie" region of the Alps.
17.20 - Press conference - Elder sister Zainab, aged 7, remains in an artificially induced coma, prosecutor says. "We hope she will be able to tell us what she saw, the number of people, everything that can allow us to identify those who committed this crime," Maillaud said.
17.15 - Press conference - Prosecutor Eric Maillaud tells the media that four-year-old Zeena was already hiding beneath her mother's legs when the family were attacked. "She canot really bring anything to the enquiry. She's likely to go back to the UK shortly. We have to find some members of her family and our British friends are helping us with this," he said.
17.10 - Police confirm victims were Saad al-Hilli and his wife Iqbal, from Claygate in Surrey. The identity of the elderly lady, the third victim found in the car, has not been confirmed yet.
17.00 – More witness reports are emerging on Friday, in particular surrounding suspicious vehicles seen near the crime scene. Several media are carrying reports from a witness who claimed to have seen a Peugot 306 being driven erratically shortly after the estimated time of the murders.
16.45 - Police still coming under fire for their handling of the crime scene and their failure to spot a four-year-old girl hiding in the car for eight hours. French gendarme Jacques Hébrard has defended his team's handling of the crime scene. See video:
16.10 – Prosecutor Eric Maillaud also tells FRANCE 24 he believes more than one person was behind the murders. “It seems humanly difficult that so many shots could be fired by one man. Instinct tells us there was more than one suspect,” Maillaud said.
15.15 - A piece in French paper Le Figaro sheds some light on how police are handling the questioning of four-year-old Zeena, who could yet remain a key witness. According to the Le Figaro two gendarmes, specially trained in questioning children, have the job of trying to solicit any information the traumatised child may hold. A translator is also helping them. “A four-year-old knows exactly what they saw and experienced. You just need to prepare the ground and it can take time,” a police source told Le Figaro. Her sister Zainab, who remains in hospital, is being guarded by armed police on a four-hour rotation, Le Figaro reports.
13.45 – A spokesman for the British Embassy in Paris has told FRANCE 24 that Ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts is leaving Annecy to return to the French capital this afternoon. Consular officials will remain with the two young girls Zainab, aged seven, and Zeena, aged 4, to take care of their welfare. Speaking to the BBC, Ambassador Ricketts said Zeena was "deeply shocked" but being cared for by consular staff. Her sister Zainab remains in hospital and consular staff will be with her as soon as it is "medically feasible", Ambassador Ricketts said. The Guardian newspaper has reported relatives of the two girls are on their way to the region.
12.50 - The local newspaper in Annecy, Le Dauphiné Liberé, has been looking into a theory put forward in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that the murders might be linked to two car-jackings in the region the night before. “According to what we have confirmed, this theory seems to be total fantasy”, the paper reports on their liveblog.
12.40 – Details of the nature of the shooting are still emerging. Various media outlets are quoting “sources close to the investigation” who say Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and her 77-year-old mother each received two gunshots to the head, strengthening the theory the murders were carried out by a professional hitman. This has not been confirmed officially by police. Witnesses say gunfire lasted less than 30 seconds, Britain’s Daily Mirror is reporting on Friday. On Thursday, however, police told the media no witnesses had reported hearing gunfire.
12.30 – Prosecutor Eric Maillaud is due to hold a press conference around 6 p.m. local time, where he is expected to confirm the identities and nationalities of the three family members found murdered in the car.
12.15 – Former Interior Minister Claude Gueant has criticised the police investigation into the Chevaline murders. Asked about the failure of officers to discover the four-year-old girl who was hiding in the car for eight hours, Gueant said it was a consequence of the “over-centralisation” of the inquiry. Locally-based gendarmes in the Alpine region of southwest France were ordered not to touch the crime scene until specialist forensics officers arrived from Paris, hence the eight-hour delay.
Police had been hoping four-year-old Zeena, who was found after remaining hidden for eight hours in the footwell of the car underneath her mother's corpse, could shed some light on the murders.
9.00 - Interior Minister defends police