|Sunday, 09 September 2012 21:10|
Detectives from both sides of the Channel returned to the Surrey home of Iraqi-born British engineer Saad al-Hilli, four days after he was found dead in his BMW car along with his wife Iqbal and two others in the French Alps. Specialist forensic officers have been drafted in to carry out the search of the Claygate home, south-west of London.
The couple were gunned down in their car last Wednesday on an isolated road near the town of Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of France. A 74-year-old woman, believed to be a close relative of the al-Hillis, was also shot dead in the car. Police believe the fourth victim, French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, stumbled across the scene by chance.
The al-Hillis’ daughters Zainab, aged seven, and Zeena, aged four, survived the attack. Media reports said Zeena, who has been unable to give police any information on the killer or killers, will return home to the UK on Sunday.
A source close the investigaton told AFP that Zeena will return home accompanied by her aunt and uncle, who had flown to Annecy in the wake of the attack.
Her sister was still in hospital in Grenoble, recovering from being shot in the shoulder and beaten on the head in the attack. Police said on Saturday that Zainab remained in an artificially-induced coma but that her life was not in danger. Detectives hope she will be able to shed some light on the shocking events.
The five French detectives now working in the UK are keen to follow up reports in the media that Saad al-Hilli, 50, had been in a feud with his older brother Zaid, 53, over their father’s inheritance. It is understood Zaid was questioned by police on Saturday and will again be quizzed by officers on Sunday.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday that Zaid was struggling to come to terms with the shocking murders. A cousin of the two men also told the paper he was unaware of any dispute between Saad, a mechanical engineer, and Zaid, who works for a leisure company.
Legal documents show the brothers were joint registered owners of the al-Hilli family home in Surrey, which they inherited from their father who fled Iraq in the 1970s.
As media in France and Britain continue to focus on the gruesome murder, the Daily Mail believes Saad al-Hilli’s job may hold the secret to the murder.
The newspaper claims al-Hilli had been working on a “secret contract for one of Europe’s biggest defence companies”. Police are expected to question his former colleagues at Surrey Satellites Technology Limited later this week.
As investigators focused on the al-Hilli family history, a Europe-wide manhunt was underway to try and track down the couple’s killer or killers. Prosecutors revealed on Saturday that police in Italy and Switzerland were now involved in the investigation as they believe the perpetrators may have fled France.
On Sunday officers from the French gendarmerie were carrying out door-to-door enquiries for a second time of local residents living close to the murder scene, AFP reported.
“We are reinvestigating around the neighbourhood to be sure because people may not have been at home when we visited the first time,” Vinnemann told AFP. “Witnesses might be able to tell us something and they can allow us to work out more precisely the timing of the movements of the al-Hillis.”
Detectives are trying to trace a motorbike and dark-coloured 4x4 vehicle seen by a witness driving on the road near the scene of the crime shortly after the murders.
Local Annecy newspaper Le Dauphiné Liberé reported on Sunday that a female driver claimed she had been threatened by a hooded man, holding a handgun, who was travelling in a dark coloured 4x4. The incident reportedly happened Thursday night, the day after the murders.
Autopsy results on Saturday revealed each of the four victims had been shot in the head twice, leading many to speculate a professional hitman was behind the attack.
Investigators, however, have so far declined to reveal the results of ballistic tests on the 25 bullets fired in the attack, for fear it may jeopardise their inquiry.
Annecy’s state prosecutor Eric Maillaud has a team of forty officers working around the clock as pressure grows to catch those responsible.
In a press conference on Saturday, Maillaud flatly refused to answer many questions from the media but vowed to catch those responsible for the shootings.
Earlier Maillaud told FRANCE 24 that “the explanation for these murders presumably lies in Britain”. His colleague working with Surrey police in the UK, Colonel Marc de Tarle, said the investigation was likely to be "long and complex".