France shootings: Saad al-Hilli brother 'denies family row'

  • 7 September 2012
  • From the section UK

The brother of Alps shooting victim Saad al-Hilli has told UK police there was no dispute over "financial matters", French prosecutors have said.

Prosecutor Eric Maillaud said French officers would interview Mr al-Hilli's brother in the UK as a "witness".

He formally confirmed Mr al-Hilli and his wife were among four people fatally shot near Lake Annecy on Wednesday.

And he said the British cyclist who reported the crime had seen a dark four-wheel drive vehicle heading away.

The prosecutor said four-year-old Zeena al-Hilli - who spent eight hours hiding in the car with the bodies before being found by officers - had told French police about the shooting that killed her mother and father during their holiday in the Alps.

Speaking to a press conference on Friday, Mr Maillaud said the brother of Iraqi-born businessman Mr al-Hilli, 50, went to the police after he heard media reports of the deaths - first to ask about al-Hilli's condition, and then, on Friday, to deny reports of a dispute with his brother.

But he said Mr al-Hilli's brother had not yet been formally questioned and police were still gathering information about Mr al-Hilli - a British national who had been living in Surrey.

Earlier on Friday, French police said a family dispute about money was one of their lines of inquiry into the killings, based on credible information coming from the British police.

'Fury and terror'

During the press conference, Mr Maillaud also confirmed that each of the victims had at least one bullet in the head, and about 25 shots were fired - more than originally thought. He refused to confirm the type or number of weapons.

He said that four-year-old Zeena al-Hilli had identified her family, and described the "fury" and "terror" of the attack to French police.

The child said she was between her mother and the older woman in the car - who has not yet been officially named - and hid under her mother's skirts when the shootings began.

"This is a little girl who must be protected," said Mr Maillaud. "She should go back to the UK soon so that she can try and forget this nightmare."

Her older sister Zainab, aged seven, is in a medically-induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital after being shot once and suffering head injuries.

She was found and rescued by a British RAF veteran, who discovered the murder scene and alerted the authorities.

Mr Maillaud said investigators will talk to her through interpreters as soon as possible, with British representatives present.

Mr al-Hilli's daughters are believed to be the only witnesses to Wednesday's killings, and both are under police protection.

Their mother Iqbal and a woman thought to be Mr al-Hilli's 74-year-old mother-in-law, a Swedish national, were killed during the attack.

The fourth victim, a cyclist whose body was found near the car after apparently stumbling across the attack, has been named as 45-year-old Sylvain Mollier.

Meanwhile, a French investigator has landed at Heathrow to begin work with British authorities, which is now officially "a Franco-British investigation", according to Mr Maillaud.

Two more French detectives were due to arrive on Friday evening, and one more on Saturday, he said.

Investigators are looking into reports of a green or dark coloured four-wheel drive vehicle in connection with the shootings. Mr Maillaud added that such vehicles were common during the tourist season in a mountainous region.

And post-mortem examinations have been carried out on the four victims' bodies on Friday.

'Terrible news'

The al-Hilli family had arrived on holiday at the nearby Le Solitaire du Lac campsite in Saint-Jorioz on Monday and had been due to leave at the end of the week.

Matt Perkins, of Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) where Mr al-Hilli worked, issued a statement following official confirmation of his death.

"I am deeply shocked and saddened to confirm that one of SSTL's long-term contractors, Saad Al-Hilli, has been formally identified as one of the victims of the shootings which occurred in the French Alps," he said.

"Saad worked at SSTL as a mechanical design engineer from November 2010.

"Saad's colleagues will remember him as an experienced and committed engineer who worked as part of a tightly knit team. He was a personal friend to many of our staff here."

Mr Perkins added Mr al-Hilli would "be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this very difficult and traumatic time".

A spokesman for Surrey Police said the force was helping French authorities to carry out a "complex" investigation.

"As part of this, the force is facilitating a visit by French investigators to conduct inquiries in the UK.

"We are unable to confirm any details around the investigation and it is inappropriate to make any further comment at this time."

Image caption Saad al-Halli and his family arrive at the Solitaire du Lac camp site on Monday. Close to the shores of Lac Annecy, in the Haute Savoie region of France the area is popular with British tourists. They pitch their tents next to their small caravan, shown above.
Image caption A former RAF serviceman who was on holiday in the area, is cycling on this forest road where he is passed by another cyclist, Frenchman Sylvain Mollier. Just south of the village of Chevaline, the road winds up a steep hill through a thickly forested area.
Image caption Minutes later, the British cyclist comes across Mr al-Halli's BMW in this lay-by, its engine running. There he discovers the French cyclist with a fatal bullet wound to the head and seven-year-old Zainab al-Halli who had been badly beaten and had a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
Image caption He puts Zainab in the recovery position, calls for assistance and breaks the driver's window to reach in and turn off the car's engine. Inside the vehicle, Saad al-Halli is slumped over the steering wheel. In the back are his dead wife and mother-in-law. Three of the four victims were shot in the middle of the head.
Image caption Also inside the car is Zainab's four-year-old sister Zeena, who is hiding in the back of the car under the legs of the dead women. French police on the scene are told not to disturb the crime scene and do not open the doors for fear of shattering the glass which has bullet holes in it.
Image caption Eight hours later, police re-examine the car and pull Zeena, "terrorised and motionless", from the car. The search was made after investigators spoke to neighbours at the campsite who said there were two children. An earlier search using a thermal camera on a helicopter had not detected the child.

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