UK home of Alps shooting victims evacuated

Key witness who could provide crucial information has come out of coma, but is still unable to talk.

Three members of the al-Hilli family were shot dead while on vacation in the French Alps [AFP]
Three members of the al-Hilli family were shot dead while on vacation in the French Alps [AFP]

Authorities investigating the murder of a British-Iraqi family in the French Alps called in a bomb squad after finding suspicious items at their home in Surrey, England.

Investigators also ordered on Monday a temporary evacuation of neighboring homes and extended the police cordon as a precaution, Al Jazeera’s Peter Sharp reported.  

British police said in a statement that the bomb squad had been called in “due to concerns around items found at the address” in Claygate. But they added that the items “not hazardous.”

As this developed, police also reported that a seven-year-old survivor, who could provide crucial new leads to the investigation, had come out of coma on Sunday.

“The little girl has come out of the artificial coma but she is under sedation and her speech is not yet audible,” prosecutor Eric Maillaud told the AFP news agency.

She was shot in the shoulder and beaten around the head, suffering a fractured skull.

Last week, three members of the al-Hilli family were found dead near the village of Chevaline in France, close to the Annecy Lake and the Swiss border. Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and his mother-in-law were discovered lifeless inside their car. A passing French cyclist identified as Sylvain Mollier was also killed.  

The al-Hilli daughters, 7-year-old Zainab and 4-year-old Zeena were also shot but survived with serious injuries. The elder Zainab was rushed to the hospital, but Zeena spent eight hours hiding among the bodies of three deceased adults.

The nature of the shooting – with witnesses targeted and the victims in the car each reportedly receiving shots to the head – has led police to publicly acknowledge a professional assassination as a possibility.

Family connection

British police have been searching the al-Hilli home since Saturday in search for clues. They are probing whether an alleged financial dispute between Saad and his brother Zaid played a role.

Friends have described tensions between the two over their late father’s assets, but Zaid has denied any conflict. Police also questioned their uncle Zaid al-Hilli, a source told the AFP on condition of anonymity.

British forensics teams began a third day of searches at the family home in Claygate, a quiet, wealthy commuter village.

Five French investigators are in also Britain to work on the case.

Police said the house and gardens would remain cordoned off while a search of the property continues.

British media reports said the search focused on a shed at the bottom of the garden.

Victims shot twice in head

Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old naturalised Briton of Iraqi origin, worked as a mechanical design engineer with the Surrey Satellite Technology firm.

Autopsies revealed that each of the four dead victims were hit by several bullets and shot twice in the head.

French police said Sunday they were re-examining the scene and exploring possibilities including that of a lone deranged killer.

“Is this the work of a crazy person? Was the family the real target? Is it possible that it was the cyclist? Only work based on complete information can help us to see things clearly,” police officer Benoit Vinneman told AFP.

But Vinneman said police had a number of hypotheses and that “it would be an error to focus on that of an ordered execution”.

Investigators were also trying to nail down the Hilli family’s exact movements before they were gunned down.

Last Saturday, around 25 police combed a large area for clues but failed to turn up anything of interest, said the police commander of the eastern Haute-Savoie department Bertrand Francois.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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