Alps shooting: Saad al-Hilli family 'heartbroken'

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Media captionFrench prosecutor Eric Maillaud says "a number of questions still exist in Britain"

The relatives of a British man and his family killed in the French Alps last week have said they are "heartbroken" by the "shocking crime".

A Foreign Office statement from the family said they hoped the perpetrators would be "brought swiftly to justice."

Saad al-Hilli, 50, was shot with his wife, mother-in-law, and a passing cyclist while on holiday. His two daughters survived the attack.

The victims' bodies have now been returned to their families.

Speaking for the first time, Ahmed al-Saffar - a close relative - said in an FCO statement: "The victim's family and I are heartbroken by this shocking crime and we have been touched by the expressions of sympathy from people all over the world.

"The victim's family are of Iraqi-Arabic origin. We are very grateful for the support provided by the British, French and Iraqi authorities during this difficult time. We hope that those responsible for the deaths of our loved ones are brought swiftly to justice.

"In the meantime, we would ask that the media understand that as a family we need time to grieve and we would therefore request that they respect our privacy at this intensely difficult time."

Forensic examinations of the bodies have now been completed and they have been returned to their relatives.

French investigators, assisted by British police officers, started examining the Claygate home of Mr al-Hilli on Saturday as part of an attempt to establish a motive for the murders.

A French investigating judge and a prosecutor are due to join them in the UK on Thursday.

French prosecutor Eric Maillaud said co-operation between French and British police was important because "a great number of clues will be in the UK".

He said he would be meeting British detectives and Crown Prosecution Service officials on Thursday.

But he said sometimes the language barrier between French and British police was slowing inquiries down.

Mr Maillaud said Mr al-Hilli's daughter, seven-year-old Zainab, who has now been brought out of an induced coma, was a "key witness" and the "only person alive who saw what happened".

He added the investigation, which involves 40 French officers, would not be based purely on Zainab's evidence and she was still in "a delicate condition".

Mr Maillaud said Mr al-Hilli's ethnic origins were being examined: "The fact that he was born in Iraq, that he had family in Iraq, of course that's something that is of interest and we are asking ourselves if there is a link between that and his death.

"There are specialised people as far as Iraq is concerned who are looking at it, in other words, people who know who to contact in order to be able to work with that country so, for example, we have a security attache we are working with."

Image caption A fingerprints officer examines the al-Hilli home in Surrey

Zainab's four-year-old sister, Zeena, who was found hiding in the car, has returned to the UK and is under the care of the authorities and social services.

She lay undiscovered for eight hours in the car after last Wednesday's attack.

Mr al-Hilli's wife, Iqbal, and her 74-year-old mother who held a Swedish passport, were killed. The body of the cyclist, 45-year-old Sylvain Mollier, was found near the car.

The family were staying in a caravan at the Le Solitaire du Lac campsite, in Annecy, when the killings happened.

Commenting on the planned arrival of the French judge and prosecutor, a spokesperson for Surrey Police said: "The purpose of the visit is to build upon the already good liaison and established co-operation between the French Gendarmerie and Surrey Police teams, given the complex nature of the investigation crossing two jurisdictions.

"Surrey Police is continuing to provide all possible support, including the provision of specialist search teams to carry out thorough checks at an address in Claygate, and a family liaison officer to assist members of the family involved both in France and the UK."

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