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France

French Police search UK home of Alps murder victims

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-09-09

A team of French detectives probing the brutal murder of four people, including a British couple, in the Alps were in Britain on Saturday, as French police come under increasing pressure to make a breakthrough in their investigation.

SATURDAY updates:

  • French police search UK house of murdered family
  • Autopsy results show all four victims shot in the head twice
  • Brother of murdered Saad al-Hilli to be questioned
  • Prosecutor says probe is a joint British and French inquiry
  • Tributes paid to French cyclist
  • Relatives of victims' daughters arrive in France

French detectives were working on both sides of the Channel on Saturday in their quest to solve the gruesome murder of four people in the French Alps, including a British couple on holiday near Lake Annecy.

A team of French investigators joined their British counterparts on Saturday to conduct a fingertip search of the house of Saad al-Hilli, 50, who, along with his wife Ikbal, 47, were gunned down in their car on a secluded road in France's Haute-Savoie region. Their two daughters Zainab, aged seven, and Zeena, aged four, survived the attack and remain in France.

Reporting from the family home at Claygate in Surrey, FRANCE 24's Alex Bayle said "Investigators will be looking for background information on the al-Hilli family - who did they last communicate with and whether they had any enemies."

Tributes paid to murdered Alps cyclist

While the media have focussed on the murdered British couple killed in their car whilst on holiday, little attention has been given to the French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier who was also shot dead in a hail of bullets.

Family and friends of the 45-year-old father of three, who police believe was in the wrong place at the wrong time, have so far refused to speak to the media. Local newspaper Le Dauphiné Liberé managed to speak to some of Mollier’s colleagues on Saturday.

“He was a really kind father, a really nice man, who was very caring with his three children,” said one. “He had no trouble with anyone,” said Michel Chevallier the deputy mayor of the town of Ugine, who had the task of informing the victim’s partner of the horrific murder. “He spent his life with his family,” he added.

The local community are mystified as to the events that led to the cyclist being gunned down but some believe his presence may have distracted the killer or killers and inadvertently saved the life of the seven-year-old girl.

The team of five, sent from Chambery, are also set to interview al-Hilli’s brother, who according to media reports, was involved in a financial feud with Saad.

On Saturday Associated Press revealed contents of a letter written by Saad al-Hilli to a childhood friend of the two men. In it the victim wrote how the brothers had clashed over their father's inheritance.

It was revealed on Friday that Saad's brother Zaid had already visited police in Britain voluntarily to deny all claims he had been in a dispute with his brother. The French prosecutor has said he will be questioned as a "witness" rather than a "suspect".

British police in Surrey, where the family lived, are “assisting” French investigators with the "complex" inquiry.

The latest statement from the force read: "This is a tragic incident and at this time our thoughts are with the family and friends of all those involved. This is a complex and ongoing investigation being led by the French authorities and Surrey Police is providing any assistance possible."

Autopsies reveal victims shot in head twice

Meanwhile in France, detectives were continuing their probe into the killing, which also claimed the life of a 74-year-old Swedish woman, believed to be a member of the al-Hilli family. Swedish authorities are working with the French to try and confirm the woman's identity. French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, was also found shot dead near the family car. Police believe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Prosecutors said on Saturday autopsy results revealed each victim had been shot twice in the head as well as in other parts of the body. Prosecutor Eric Maillaud told a press conference on Saturday he would not be releasing details about ballistic tests on bullets, for fear of compromising the investigation.

Maillaud told FRANCE 24 on Friday he believed more than one killer was behind the attack.

Detectives have revealed they are trying to track down a green 4x4 and a motorbike, both seen by a key witness near the crime scene around the time of the murders on Wednesday.

The French prosecutor revealed on Saturday that Swiss and Italian police were now helping the investigation.

French prosecutor Eric Maillaud at Friday's press conference

Prosecutor Eric Maillaud is also hoping his men will soon be able to speak to seven-year-old Zainab, who remains in hospital recovering from a fractured skull and a gun-shot wound to the shoulder.

She remains in an artificially induced coma, although police say she is now out of danger.

Speaking to a packed press conference of British, French and international journalists on Friday, Maillaud said Zainab could prove vital in their hunt for the killer or killers.
"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.

Zainab’s younger sister Zeena, who was found hiding in the car by police eight hours after the murder had been reported, also remains in France but is expected to fly back to Britain shortly.

Relatives arrive in France

French police said relatives of the two girls had arrived in France and were expected to visit 4-year-old Zeena over the weekend.

"Members of the family arrived in France last night, a man and a woman, accompanied by a British social worker," Maillaud told AFP early on Saturday, adding that it was unclear which of the couple was directly related to the children. "I don't know when they will be able to see the little girl. We have to be sure it can be done without problems."

Police have been unsuccessful in their attempts to glean information from the four-year-old, who was hiding under her mother’s legs when the attacker struck. "She cannot really bring anything to the inquiry,” the prosecutor said.

A press conference is due to be held at 3pm (local time) on Saturday in the Palais de Justice of Annecy.

Date created : 2012-09-08

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