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France

Seven-year-old survivor 'remembers' Alps shooting

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-09-11

The eldest daughter of the British-Iraqi couple murdered in the French Alps last week has started speaking to investigators, expressing fear and seeming to remember what she had been through, a British newspaper has reported.

Monday updates:

  • Seven-year-old survivor speaks to police, ‘seems to remember’ deadly attack
  • French prosecutor confirms that a single 7.65mm automatic pistol was used to kill the four victims
  • Road leading to crime scene closed to pedestrians
  • Police say items found at Alps murder family's home were 'not hazardous' after bomb squad sent in
  • Elderly victim of shooting confirmed as grandmother
  • Police gather CCTV images from around the region

Seven-year-old Zainab, the eldest daughter of the British-Iraqi couple shot dead in the French Alps last week, started speaking to investigators after coming out of an induced coma, a British daily has reported.

On Monday the Times quoted an unnamed source as saying Zainab had “expressed fear, said she was terrified and seemed to remember what she had been through”. The same source added that police had “been able to speak to [Zainab] but this was just an initial meeting. They could not go into any detail and the child was very tired.”

The Times exclusive also highlighted a series of “secret meetings” that the slain father took part in days before the grisly murders, quoting people who had observed the family at the Village Camping Europa, one of the two campsites the family stayed in during their French holiday.

Zainab had been in hospital in Grenoble after being bludgeoned over the head and shot in the shoulder during the attack.

French state prosecutor Eric Maillaud had previously said Zainab could prove to be the key witness in the murder case of her parents Saad and Ikbal al-Hilli, her grandmother and a passing French cyclist in the French Alps last Wednesday, but that his detectives would only be able to question her once they get the green light from medical staff.

He said an uncle and aunt of the girl, who had suffered serious skull fractures in the attack, perhaps with the butt of the assailant's gun, were by her side at the hospital. She will remain under heavy police protection in hospital.

The youngest sister, four-year-old Zeena, who survived unscathed after the shootings on a remote forest road near the village of Chevaline, has returned to Britain.

Zeena, who hid under her mother's legs during the attack, had been unable to give police any information on the killer or killers.

Weapon identified

Maillaud revealed on Monday that a 7.65mm automatic pistol was the only weapon used in the killing.

Because of the high number of shots fired during the grisly murder – 25 spent cartridges were discovered at the scene last Wednesday – police and observers initially speculated that there might have been multiple shooters, but Maillaud confirmed to Reuters on Monday afternoon only one firearm was used.

The finding came after analysis of the spent cartridges and the bullets retrieved from the corpses of the four victims. Establishing the ballistic fingerprint may also help investigators find where the bullets came from and whether the pistol had been used in other crimes.

Regional daily Le Dauphiné Libéré reported that the road leading to the crime scene had been blocked off on Monday evening as French police continued investigating.

The road had already been barred to vehicles, but local Gendarmerie commander Bertrand François said the new measure was meant to limit the number of visitors to the site, some of whom had already been caught “digging the ground”.

Bomb squad called in

Earlier on Monday, a British army bomb disposal squad was called to the slain couple’s home in Surrey, near London, to examine certain items found in the victims' house. But police said later in a statement that the suspicious materials were "not hazardous".

Nevertheless, while the Royal Logistics Corps bomb disposal team went to work at the property of Saad and Ikbal al-Hilli, a no-go security cordon was widened and some neighbours were asked to leave their homes. The bomb squad left Surrey after around two hours.

British and French investigators continued to search the family home.

Police also confirmed on Monday that an elderly woman killed in last week's deadly gun attack was the grandmother of the two young girls who survived the shooting.

The 77-year-old woman, a Swedish resident of Iraqi origin, was gunned down along with the Surrey-based British-Iraqi couple, her daughter Ikbal al-Hilli and son-in-law Saad al-Hilli.

Her two granddaughters, Zainab, aged seven, and Zeena, aged four, survived the attack, which also claimed the life of French national Sylvain Mollier, a father of three, who police believe cycled by chance into the path of the killer.

"We can confirm she is the maternal grandmother thanks to information received from Great Britain," Maillaud told AFP on Monday.

Family and friends of the al-Hillis are believed to have confirmed her identity after being questioned by British police over the weekend.

Meanwhile, in France, investigators trying to find those responsible for the horrific crime were gathering CCTV images from various locations in and around the city of Annecy.

French prosecutor Eric Maillaud at Friday's press conference

Officers are particularly keen to track down a dark-coloured 4x4 that a witness spotted near the scene of the crime.

"We have started identifying cameras that could provide us with important information," a source in the gendarmes told AFP. "We are identifying the location of cameras at shops, banks and other spots and we will get the tapes."

Brother to be questioned again

The five French detectives now working in the UK are keen to follow up reports in the media that Saad al-Hilli, 50, had been in a feud with his older brother Zaid, 53, over their father’s inheritance. It is understood Zaid will be quizzed for a third straight day on Monday.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday that Zaid was struggling to come to terms with the shocking murders. A cousin of the two men also told the paper he was unaware of any dispute between Saad, a mechanical engineer, and Zaid, who works for a leisure company.

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.

Legal documents show the brothers were joint registered owners of the al-Hilli family home in Surrey, which they inherited from their father who fled Iraq in the 1970s.

As media in France and Britain continue to focus on the gruesome crime, the Daily Mail believes Saad al-Hilli’s job may hold the secret to the murder.

The newspaper claims al-Hilli had been working on a “secret contract for one of Europe’s biggest defence companies”. Police are expected to question his former colleagues at Surrey Satellites Technology Limited later this week.

Europe-wide manhunt

As investigators focused on the al-Hilli family history, a Europe-wide manhunt was underway to try and track down the couple’s killer or killers. Detectives revealed on Saturday that police in Italy and Switzerland were now involved in the investigation, as they believe the perpetrators may have fled France.

On Sunday, officers from the French gendarmerie were carrying out a second door-to-door enquiry of residents living close to the murder scene, AFP reported.

Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Vinnemann told the agency investigators wanted to make sure they had not missed any important witnesses first time around.

“We are reinvestigating around the neighbourhood to be sure because people may not have been at home when we visited the first time,” Vinnemann told AFP. “Witnesses might be able to tell us something and they can allow us to work out more precisely the timing of the movements of the al-Hillis.”

Detectives are trying to trace a motorbike and dark-coloured 4x4 vehicle seen by a witness driving on the road near the scene of the crime shortly after the murders.

Le Dauphiné Liberé reported on Sunday that a female driver claimed she had been threatened by a hooded man, holding a handgun, who was travelling in a dark coloured 4x4. The incident reportedly happened Thursday night, the day after the murders.

 

Date created : 2012-09-09

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