French Alps shooting: Four-year-old ‘didn’t see’ family’s assassin
A FOUR-YEAR-OLD British girl who hid while her parents were shot dead will not be able to help police find who killed them because she did not see the attack.
Zeena al-Hilli, who was found huddled at the feet of her dead mother hours after the French Alpine shootings, has talked to investigators about being petrified during the attack but was only able to confirm the identities of her parents.
French prosecutor Eric Maillaud said: “She just talked about a fury, a terror. She rushed under her mother’s legs, her skirt.”
He went on: “The little girl was totally terrorised. She heard but did not see anything.”
It leaves the possibility that the only person who saw the killer, or killers, was Zeena’s sister, Zainab, seven.
Mr Maillaud said he hoped, Zainab, who was badly beaten in the attack, could assist police once she was well enough. She is currently in an induced coma.
The news came as the prosecutor said the girls’ uncle had gone to police yesterday to deny he had any feud with their father, who was killed on Wednesday along with his wife and two other people.
Zaid al-Hilli visited a police station in Britain, where he lives, after hearing on TV of the death of his brother Saad, 50. He then went back to the police after learning of claims of a financial dispute over their late father’s estate.
The prosecutor said a four-strong French police team were flying to Britain to interview Mr al-Hilli shortly, but he added there may be other brothers.
He said: “The brother spontaneously went to see the police in Britain first to find out how his brother was because, through the British media, he had heard about the death of his brother.
Mr Maillaud revealed all of those killed had each been shot at least three times, including in the head. They were Mr al-Hilli, a mechanical engineer, his dentist wife Iqbal, 47, another woman – believed to be her Iraqi-born mother – and a French cyclist.
Swedish media reported that Iqbal’s mother, 74, had moved to Sweden in 2001 and became a citizen six years ago.
The family were found by another cyclist in a lay-by off a road south of Annecy on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Maillaud said 25 bullet cartridges had been found at the scene, inside and outside the car.
He said police are waiting to speak to Zainab, who was put into a coma to help her recover from a fractured skull suffered in a severe beating during the incident. She was also shot in the shoulder.
The girl had been sitting in a child seat in the front of the car.
Mr Maillaud said: “We hope she will be able to tell us what she has seen.”
He said it had yet to be decided who would care for Zeena, who lay undiscovered at the feet of the two dead women in the back of the car for eight hours.
He said: “I imagine she’ll go back to Britain in a short timescale. We have to be able to identify members of her family, we have to make sure that they are people that can be trusted.”
Responding to descriptions of the shootings as an “execution”, the prosecutor said: “They were people who wanted to kill and were not scared to take a life.”
Mr Maillaud said a green or dark-coloured four-wheel-drive car had been seen on the road near the shootings.
He added that the investigation is a Franco-British inquiry, with French police due to help search the al-Hillis’ house in Claygate, Surrey. They will examine Mr al-Hilli’s business interests, such as companies owned. Mr Maillaud said neither French nor UK police had information linking Mr al-Hilli to terrorism.
The family had been in France for a week before the shooting and arrived at the Le Solitaire du Lac camp site in Saint-Jorioz, near Annecy, on Monday. They had stayed there several times before.
The prosecutor said it appeared the cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, who was found beside the car, had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, he said it was possible the family had been lured into a trap by their killers.
Mr al-Hilli is believed to have moved to the UK as a teenager in the 1970s, reportedly after the family’s mechanical engineering business was looked upon “unfavourably” by Saddam Hussein’s Baath party.
His accountant said he started his own small business, Shtech Ltd, in 2001 and ran it from the family’s detached house, working on projects including for the aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
Mr al-Hilli is thought to have given the job of the company’s secretary to his wife, replacing his brother, two years ago, although it is believed the post is not significant within the firm.
Online records show Mr al-Hilli was a director of a Swindon-based firm offering “business services, aerial photographers and surveys services”. He had also worked for Guildford-based Surrey Satellite Technology as a contract mechanical design engineer since 2010.