Investigators attempting to piece together why a British family was murdered in the French Alps last week say they are now pursuing three main leads, as relatives who said they were heartbroken called for whoever carried out the brutal killings to be brought to justice.
A week after the bullet-ridden bodies of Surrey-based engineer Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf were found in a car near Lake Annecy, with a passing cyclist also shot dead nearby, prosecutor Eric Maillaud said the investigation was focusing on three factors: an alleged family dispute, Saad al-Hilli's profession as a contractor for a satellite technology company in Surrey, and his origins in Iraq.
Key witness testimony from the couple's seven-year-old daughter, Zainab, who was shot and badly beaten during the attack, has yet to be heard. Investigators waiting to question her have yet to be given the go ahead by doctors, said Maillaud, who said she remained in a "delicate" state of health after being brought out of a medically induced coma at the hospital in Grenoble where she is under armed guard.
Her four-year-old sister, Zeena, who survived the attack physically unscathed by hiding under her mother's legs, has returned home to Britain.
In their first public statement since the killings last Wednesday, relatives called on investigators to move quickly in their hunt. In a statement issued by the Foreign Office, Ahmed Al-Saffar, brother of the 74-year-old Swedish-Iraqi Suhaila al-Allaf, said: "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 ... 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."
Maillaud and one of the two investigating judges responsible for the case are due to visit the UK on Thursday in order, he said, to "further develop and strengthen the quality of co-operation" between the investigators in the two countries.
He said that both sides had been trying to work together and understand each other, but the language barrier and legal system differences had presented difficulties. "I think the British police would say the same," he told a press conference in Annecy. "We can say that basically we exist in the same western universe and that we are very close, that we share the same things, but we have different legal systems and there are sometimes difficulties in understanding which slow down and we all regret that."
He said a large part of the investigation was taking place in Britain where French authorities believe a "great number of clues" could be found.
Much attention has focused on the family and an alleged financial feud between 50-year-old Saad and his brother Zaid, who is also based in the UK. However, Zaid al-Hilli is understood to have approached British police officers to deny the reports, and Maillaud said the "familial lead" was no more deserving of interest than al-Hilli's job or his family roots.
"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," Maillaud said. That line of investigation was being pursued by "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". There was a great difficulty in obtaining reliable information from Iraqi, he said.
One of the original theories behind the killings of the three family members in their maroon BMW in a forest clearing near one of the Alps' best-known beauty spots was that it could have been a robbery. However, without saying that any lead had been discarded, Maillaud said numerous identification documents had been left in the car after the attack.
He would give no further information concerning the weapon used, believed to be a 7.65 calibre pistol, saying he deplored the leaks that had surfaced in the media surrounding the nature of the weapon and number of perpetrators.
He also refused to comment on remarks reportedly made by police that the family did not appear to have the profile of "ordinary tourists".
In separate reports, fellow campers have told the media that Saad al-Hilli, from Claygate in Surrey, had behaved "strangely" in the days leading up to the attack.
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