France shooting: Police examine feud, job and Iraqi origins

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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THE seven-year-old daughter of the British couple murdered while on holiday in France has come out of a coma, raising hopes that she can tell police who was responsible for the massacre.

Zainab al-Hilli was shot, bludgeoned and left for dead at the scene where her parents, Saad and Iqbal, an older Swedish woman, Suhaila al-Saffar, 74, and a passing French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, were killed. Yesterday, her younger sister, Zeena, four, who had hidden in the car under her dead mother’s skirt for eight hours before police discovered her, was brought back to the UK.

Meanwhile, police are preparing to 
interview Mr Hilli’s brother, Zaid, for a second time.

There have been reports that the brothers were feuding following a row over business prior to the murders.

However, a relative has insisted that Zaid, 53, is innocent and has been left “devastated” by the deaths in his family.

The Hillis’ eldest daughter had been in a medically-induced coma since she was discovered following the shooting on Wednesday afternoon.

While police have said her younger sister did not see who attacked the family, there is hope that Zainab could hold vital clues to the crime that has left investigators struggling to discover a motive.

She suffered contusions to the skull and a bullet wound in the shoulder in the attack, in the French Alps, near Annecy.

State prosecutor Eric Maillaud said: “She [Zainab] has come out of her artificial coma and she is now sedated. She is better and her condition is improving little by little. She will be able to be questioned, but in what time frame? We’ll need a green light from the doctors.”

He said an uncle and aunt were by her side at the hospital in Grenoble.

Mr Maillaud also confirmed that Zeena had now returned to the UK. “She returned to the UK by air,” he said. “On arrival she was put under the care of the authorities and the social services.”

Mr Maillaud said he did not know where Zeena was being housed. She was flown back to the UK after two relatives travelled to France alongside a British social worker and family liaison officers from Surrey Police.

Mr Maillaud said a family feud over money was one of several motives still being considered for the murders.

Mr Hilli’s brother has already been formally questioned and will be spoken to again.

“He is being questioned as a witness.” Mr Maillaud said.

“It’s a lead that is serious and interesting, but so is the profession of the dead person and his Iraqi origins.”

Zaid has denied a dispute with his murdered brother.

It is also believed detectives are looking into Saad’s profession, with reports emerging that he was working as a contractor for a satellites technology company in Surrey.

The brothers’ cousin, Ali al-Hilli, 57, who lives in Australia, insisted Zaid was innocent.

He added: “I don’t think Zaid is coping with the pressure. He is really in very deep shock. When I spoke to him he was clearly devastated. He wasn’t coping.

“He is on his own. I think he feels lonely. I was trying my best to give him support, although I am far away.”

Police resumed their examination of the Hillis’ mock-Tudor home in Claygate, Surrey, yesterday morning as part of the investigation into the murders, in which each of the four victims shot twice in the head.

Officers entered the family’s home on Saturday after a team of four French investigators, led by Colonel Marc de Tarle, arrived in the UK.

A Surrey Police spokesman said the force was supplying resources from its major crime team, as well as forensic officers, search teams and translators.

The spokesman said: “Dozens of Surrey Police officers are assisting with the investigation.There is seamless interaction between the French and Surrey officers, it is working very well.”

Meanwhile, French authorities have asked their Italian and Swiss counterparts to help them in their hunt for the killer or killers. Witnesses have said they saw a four-wheel-drive vehicle in the area at the time of the killings, and possibly a motorbike.

One theory is that it was a bungled armed robbery. However, speculation about other possible motives, including a planned attack by professional hitmen, remains rife.