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Alps shooting family smiling in photos just before murder

A tow truck escorted by French gendarmes carries the car in which members of the Hilli family were shot dead in Chevaline.

GRENOBLE, France: Photos of a British-Iraqi family taken just minutes before they were gunned down in the French Alps last month show them smiling and looking relaxed, a prosecutor said Sunday.

“The two women were smiling, they didn’t seem worried. This suggests that they were all relaxed at that time,” said prosecutor Eric Maillaud, who is taking a lead role in the investigation of the Sept. 5 murders.

Maillaud had previously said police were studying photos taken by the family – Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, all shot in their car – but had not provided details.

He said they were taken at 3:15 p.m. local time, just over half an hour before a British cyclist gave the alert at 3:48 p.m. when he spotted the bodies and that of another cyclist shot dead after apparently stumbling upon the crime.

Maillaud said that investigators were also studying the possibility that a green four-wheel drive vehicle that the British cyclist saw in the area might have been a forest service vehicle.

A prosecutor from Geneva in nearby Switzerland Friday met with the two French judges in Annecy, a town near the site of the killings, who are investigating the murders.

Investigators are probing a bank account held by Saad al-Hilli in Geneva that had around a million euros ($1.3 million) in credit, a source close to the inquiry said, adding that Hilli wanted to prevent his brother, with whom he was reportedly in conflict, from getting access to the account.

“We are trying to determine if major transactions were carried out on the account in the days preceding the drama or if Saad al-Hilli made a trip to Geneva. For the moment, we do not know,” Maillaud said.

Newspaper La Tribune de Geneve reported last week that Swiss authorities had seized money in the Geneva account. It said Saad al-Hilli had been to Geneva shortly before the killings.

The only known witness to the killing was 7-year-old Zainab al-Hilli, who nearly died after being shot in the shoulder and hit repeatedly around the head by the attacker.

But she has been unable to help the enquiry in any meaningful way.

Her 4-year-old sister survived the attack by sheltering under her mother’s skirt in the back of the family’s BMW estate car.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 15, 2012, on page 10.

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