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Family of girls who survived Alps killings arrive in France

British police officer places flower tributes Sept. 8, 2012, outside the home of Saad al-Hilli, in Claygate, Britain. (AP Photo / Steve Parsons, PA)

ANNECY, France: Relatives of the two girls who survived the shooting of a British family in the Alps arrived in France Saturday as police prepared to search the victims' home in Britain for clues to the unexplained murders.

"Members of the family arrived in France last night, a man and a woman, accompanied by a British social worker," prosecutor Eric Maillaud told AFP.

He said he did not know which of the couple was directly related to the children and it was not clear when exactly they would be able to see the youngest of the survivors -- four-year-old Zeena al-Hilli.

"I don't know when they will be able to see the little girl. We have to be sure it can be done without problems," he said.

He said meetings would be "systematically" carried out in the presence of French investigators.

Zeena has been in the care of French authorities since the brutal attack on Wednesday, which saw Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old naturalized Briton born in Iraq, his wife Ikbal and his 74-year-old mother-in-law gunned down as they sat in their car in a forest car park in an Alpine tourist area.

Their seven-year-old daughter Zainab was left for dead and remains in a medically induced coma after being shot and badly beaten in the attack.

Zeena hid undetected for eight hours under her dead mother's skirts and escaped physically unscathed.

A local man, 45-year-old Sylvain Mollier, was also killed after apparently stumbling on the shooting.

Maillaud said that French investigators who had travelled to Britain to probe the killing would question Hilli's brother, who has already presented himself before British police to deny reports that he had a financial dispute with his brother.

"Obviously the brother will be questioned," he said, adding that "all those who knew the victims will be questioned."

Investigators have been unable to obtain much useful information from traumatized Zeena are hoping Zainab can provide some clues once she emerges from her coma.

Autopsies were concluded overnight Saturday, Maillaud said, but the results were not yet being released. Authorities were due to speak to journalists later Saturday.

British police forensics officers meanwhile prepared to enter the family's home in Claygate in Surrey, a quiet commuter village some 15 miles (25 kilometers) southwest of London.

The operation, which a French police source said would take more than a day, was expected to be carried out jointly with French gendarmes who flew to London on Friday.

The source told AFP the search would begin after a strategy session in which the French investigators would also be briefed by British counterparts on local procedures.

Meanwhile Italian and Swiss police were assisting the French as they hunt for the killer or killers behind the brutal murders.

"Italy is an hour and a half away, Switzerland an hour away. Investigators have asked for help of all neighboring countries," Maillaud said.

The family were killed in their British-registered BMW estate car in a forest car park near the village of Chevaline in the picturesque Haute-Savoie region around Lake Annecy.

Each had been shot multiple times, including at least once in the head. About 25 spent bullet casings were found near the vehicle and police have said they suspect more than one shooter may have been involved.

A former British Royal Air Force pilot who was the first to arrive on the murder scene as he was bicycling by reported seeing a green or other dark-colored four-wheel drive vehicle speed away from the scene.

A regional gendarmerie commander, Colonel Bertrand Francois, said searches around the area of the shooting were being expanded as from Saturday to cover a zone of some four square kilometers (1.5 square miles), with some 25 officers taking part.

 

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