Alps shooting families tell of 'heartbreak'

 

The families of three Britons killed in a shooting spree in the French Alps said they were “heartbroken” by their deaths but “touched by the expressions of sympathy from people all over the world”.

Engineer Saad al-Hilli, his wife and mother-in-law were brutally murdered in a remote spot close to Lake Annecy a week ago.

Ahmed Al-Saffar, the brother of Mrs al-Hilli's dead mother, said: "The victims' 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 victims' 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."

The statement, on behalf of the al-Hilli and Al-Saffar families, came as Annecy's chief prosecutor Eric Maillaud spoke about the investigation's progress.

Mr Maillaud is due to travel to the UK tomorrow as part of an investigation into the murder, with examining magistrate Michel Mollin, another senior member of the inquiry team.

They will join a small number of French investigators already in Britain to help unravel the mystery surrounding the deaths of the three Britons and French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, who apparently stumbled across the attack.

Mr Maillaud told reporters that he hoped the inquiry would progress as quickly as possible.

He said the scene of the crime had been protected by the gendarmerie again today as witness statements were being checked for timings of sightings, which often changed when people thought for longer about what they had seen.

As for the al-Hillis' seven-year-old daughter Zainab, who survived the killings, Mr Maillaud said: "She will, of course, be listened to very specifically, but her doctors have got to be able to help her try to get back to the best possible health, and eventually hope she will express herself."

He said she is a key witness - "the only person alive who actually could have seen something" - but warned that she is seven years old and has been "very damaged".

Mr Maillaud said 40 French officers were working on the complex case which has led to a flurry of theories relating to possible motives.

But he gave no indication that French authorities were any closer to solving the murders, suggesting it could be years before answers emerge.

Investigators are focusing on three specific areas - Mr al-Hilli's work, his family and his native Iraq.

The latter has been at the centre of considerable attention and Mr Maillaud said a "specialised" team was tasked with examining Mr al-Hilli's links to the country.

He said: "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.

He added: "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."

Mr Maillaud said the large part of the investigation was taking place in the UK and that French authorities believe there could be a "great number of clues" in Britain.

But he refused to be drawn on the main area of the inquiry's focus.

Mr Maillaud said investigators had no plans to travel to Sweden, where Mrs al-Hilli's mother, named in reports as Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, was living.

But he said police would interview a relative in Sweden, if it transpired that reports relating to his alleged history of violence proved to be correct.

In Annecy, numerous witnesses have already come forward, he said.

They include a hiker, named only as Philippe D, 41, who likened the carnage to a horrific film scene.

The walker described arriving at the site of the massacre, in the Combe d'Ire forest, near Chevaline, minutes after the attack at around 4pm last Wednesday.

There, in a small car park, he found the bodies of Mr al-Hilli, 50, his dentist wife Iqbal, 47 and Mrs al-Allaf in their bullet-ridden BMW.

A fourth body, that of Mr Mollier, lay nearby.

The al-Hilli's daughter Zainab, seven, was lying by the car. She had been brutally beaten and shot in the shoulder and is now recovering from her ordeal in hospital.

Her sister Zeena, four, escaped unscathed by cowering behind her mother as bullets rained down. She has flown back to Britain with carers.

Sources said the victims were likely to have been blasted with the same gun, fuelling speculation they were targeted by a contract killer. Each person was shot twice in the head.

Detailed ballistic analysis of 25 spent cartridges found at the scene suggests they all came from a 7.65mm automatic pistol.

The gun has been described as an old-fashioned weapon but one that can still be used by special forces.

Officers are now examining all aspects of Mr al-Hilli's life to find a motive for the murders.

Mr Maillaud will visit the al-Hilli family home in Claygate, Surrey, tomorrow afternoon as part of a 24-hour trip to the UK.

Yesterday officers were examining a safe at the mock Tudor house which has been the subject of intense police searches for five days.

PA

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star