Alps shootings: Zainab al-Hilli brought out of coma

Police stand guard outside the al-Hilli family home on 9 September 2012
Image caption Police have continued to search the al-Hilli family home in Surrey

A seven-year-old girl shot and injured in an attack in the French Alps which left her parents dead has been brought out of a coma.

French prosecutor Eric Maillaud said Zainab al-Hilli, from Surrey, is still under sedation and will not be able to be questioned for several more days.

But police hope she will will eventually be able provide more information about the shootings.

Mr Maillaud said her four-year-old sister Zeena has returned to the UK.

Zeena lay undiscovered for eight hours after her parents, a woman thought to be her grandmother and a local cyclist died in Wednesday's attack in Chevaline.

Mr Maillaud said: "She returned to the UK by air. On arrival she was put under the care of the authorities and the social services."

In an earlier briefing, Mr Maillaud told reporters Zeena had been interviewed, but he did not see a need to speak to her again as she "did not see anything".

Two relatives of the girls had travelled to France with a British social worker and police family liaison officers.

Meanwhile, police have spent a second day searching the family's home in Claygate.

French and British investigators, including Surrey Police firearms officers, started examining the home of Saad al-Hilli, 50, on Saturday as part of an attempt to establish a motive for the murders which took place during the family's camping holiday.

In France, police returned to the scene of the crime and widened their area of investigation, Mr Maillaud said.

"We are trying to see how those who committed these acts were able to get away," he added.

Ballistics details

French police have also asked their Italian and Swiss counterparts to help in the hunt for the killers.

Mr al-Hilli's wife, Iqbal, and a 74-year-old woman who held a Swedish passport and who is reported to be Mr al-Hilli's mother-in-law, were killed during the attack in Chevaline, close to the tourist destination of Lake Annecy, on Wednesday.

Image caption Mr al-Hilli's daughters are believed to be the only witnesses to Wednesday's killings

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.

In Annecy on Saturday, the French prosecutor told a news conference that the post-mortem examinations on the victims had been completed on Friday night.

"All four were killed by several bullets and all four were hit twice in the head," Mr Maillaud said.

The prosecutor, who had previously said 25 shots were fired in total, told reporters that officers had discovered more information about the ballistics but the details would not be disclosed publicly.

Caution urged

A couple of days after the killings, French police said that a possible dispute over money between Mr al-Hilli and his brother, Zaid, was one of the lines of inquiry in the investigation.

This was based on credible information coming from the British police, they said.

But Mr Maillaud has since said that Zaid al-Hilli, who denied to UK police there was any dispute over "financial matters", would be interviewed "as a witness" by French officers "just like any other family member".

"Everyone talks about a dispute between the brothers as if it was an established fact. The brother says there was no dispute so let us remain cautious about that," he said.

Image caption Saad al-Hilli 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 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-Hilli'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-Hilli 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-Hilli 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.

Flowers have been left at the scene of the shooting in France, while floral tributes from neighbours continued to be placed at the al-Hilli home during the day on Saturday.

The vicar of Claygate, the Reverend Philip Plyming, said in a statement: "I, and the church community of Claygate, share the shock felt by so many in the village and beyond at the recent tragic events in France."

He said that during Sunday's church services there would be prayers for the al-Hilli family, "as well as all those affected by the news".

Speaking to BBC News on Sunday morning, one churchgoer said: "Today in church we'll see a lot of emotion and a lot of prayers and the community drawing together.

"And I know if the little girls come back here, there'll be so much support for whoever's looking after them."

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