- Seven-year-old survivor speaks for first time after waking from coma
- Police had cordoned off road in Claygate, Surrey and evacuate neighbours
- Items ‘of concern’ have prompted the dramatic cordon
- All four victims were shot twice in the head and may have been followed by their killers
- Four-year-old survivor of French assassination shown a photo of murdered mother and exclaimed ‘mummy’
- Seven-year-old survivor to be shown photographs to try and identify killer
- Police say they are looking at whether murderer may have lured family to killing spot
A single weapon was used to carry out the Alpine massacre in which four people including a British couple were gunned down in cold blood, it emerged today.
The extraordinary revelation reinforces a theory that a highly-trained professional contract killer was behind the slaughter.
It comes as the seven-year-old girl who survived the attack spoke to French police for the first time after waking from an induced coma.
Survivor Zainab al-Hilli, was injured so severely after being shot and brutally beaten during the attack that doctors placed her in a medically induced coma.
She has since regained consciousness and was able to hold a brief discussion with officers in France, sources close to the investigation have said.
She is seen as a key witness to the horrific attack that left her parents and grandmother dead.
Zainab’s younger sister Zeena, four, who survived by cowering behind her mother, has flown back to Britain with carers.
While she is unable to shed much light on the murders, French police believe Zainab could provide them with crucial details to help piece together what happened.
A source said: ‘They have been able to speak to her but this was just an initial meeting. They could not go into any detail and the child was very tired. It was not permitted for the discussion to go any further.’
Police must now wait for a green light from medics before they can engage the girl in a more lengthy discussion when she is expected to be asked about her memories of the attack.
It is as yet unclear who will take custody of the two orphaned children.
This morning the bomb squad searched the family home this morning after police discovered ‘concerning’ items.
Police cordoned off the road surrounding the home in Claygate, Surrey, and evacuated neighbours as the dramatic discovery was made this morning.
A perspex sheet was erected outside the Al-Hilli’s front door and the investigation is believed to have centred around items discovered in the shed of the property.
The left at around 12.30pm after reportedly investigating the ‘concerning’ items and the shed.
A spokesman for Surrey Police said at around 9.20am the cordon was widened.
They said: ‘Surrey Police can confirm that due to circumstances around items found at the address in Oaken Lane, Claygate, officers have extended the cordon surrounding the property.
‘Neighbours in the immediate area are being temporarily evacuated.’
A spokesman later said the investigation had not found anything dangerous at the property and people could go home.
They said: ‘Surrey Police can confirm that items found this morning at an address in Oaken Lane, Claygate are not hazardous.
‘The items were found earlier today when the search of the property was extended from the main building to two outhouses in the garden.
‘A bomb disposal unit was called to the scene to carry out an assessment as a precautionary measure.
‘The extension to the cordon has now been lifted and residents who were evacuated earlier as a precaution are now being allowed to return to their homes.’
Soon after the cordon was extended, a Royal Logistic Corps bomb disposal truck arrived.
Officers were seen apparently receiving a briefing at a neighbouring home.
Investigators first entered the al-Hillis’ family home on Saturday after a team of four French investigators, led by Colonel Marc de Tarle, arrived in the UK.
The police investigation appeared to focus on a shed or workshop at the bottom of the garden.
Major Chris Hunter, a retired British Army Counter-Terrorist Bomb Disposal Operator, said the bomb squad could have been called to the family home following the discovery of an improvised explosive device (IED).
He said the Royal Logistic Corps team would usually be called out if there was a potential terrorist threat.
But he said the squad could also have been the nearest team available.
‘I imagine the police have discovered something they are unhappy with, something that is a potential improvised explosive device or an improvised explosive itself,’ he said.
‘It could be a hazardous, dangerous or unstable substance.’
But he said the item could turn out to be an everyday substance.
The bomb disposal team would either send a robot to ‘neutralise’ a potential IED or the job could be done by an officer dressed in a special armoured suit, he added.
He said any delay in discovering the items of concern could be down to the fact that police investigating the shooting would have been looking for a ‘very different sort of evidence’.
Alternatively, whatever they have unearthed could have been ‘secreted or hidden somewhere’, he said.
He added: ‘Potentially, if they (the police) thought there was a firearm there and it was booby-trapped, then they would call the bomb squad to investigate it further.’
The dramatic turn of events comes as it was revealed that gun that shot the family dead was used to place at least two bullets in every victim’s head, and five in the cyclist’s body.
This meant it is likely to have required re-loading in an extremely short period of time.
But detectives investigating last Wednesday’s atrocity insisted that the use of a single gun does not preclude more than one suspect being involved.
‘All we are certain of is that it was carried out in a ruthlessly effective manner, with one gun being used to kill and maim in a manner which was clincally accurate,’ said an investigating source.
It was also announced specialists officers are already preparing to interview Zainab Al-Hilli, seven, who has emerged from an induced coma after members of her family were shot dead in a forested car park near Chevaline, France on September 5.
The survivor is to be shown photographs of the murder scene in an attempt to get her to identify the gunmen, it emerged today.
Women detectives now face the hugely sensitive and difficult task of getting the orphaned Zainab to describe what she saw. They also face the agonising task of telling Zainab that her parents died.
Police know Zainab was outside the BMW car in which her three relatives were killed, and in which her sister Zeena, four, hid.
Zeena saw nothing, and will not be an official witness in the enquiry having escaped unscathed, but Zainab’s testament is crucial.
‘It will be filmed when it takes place inside her hospital room,’ said a source at the CNEF police centre at Gif-sur-Yvette, near Paris, who have trained the officers preparing to speak to Zainab.
‘There will be no direct questions – everything will be left open-ended and general. This means trying to stimulate the memory of a little girl whose life has been shattered.
‘Pictures will be shown of the family BMW at the murder scene. This is one of the only ways that Zainab can be taken back to last Wednesday and the horrific events which unfolded.’
The French officers will be accompanied by a translator and social workers, although there is currently no indication that an Al-Hilli family member will be with Zainab.
An aunt and uncle of the girls travelled back to London on Sunday with Zeena, who is currently at a secret location in the London area.
Security remains extremely tight around the Grenoble University Hospital, where Zainab is guarded by around 12 police at all times.
As the only witnesses to the bloodbath, the girls would be an obvious target for those responsible for carrying it out.
Confirming that Zainab’s interview will take place as soon as medics ‘give the green light’, Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud said: ‘We hope she will provide lots of information, but the interview will be an extremely delicate one.’
Balsam Hilli-Xanthis, 59, a cousin of Iraq-born Mr Al-Hilli, has offered to help the orphaned children financially.
A family source said: ‘Balsam called Surrey Police. She is in Iraq at the moment. She has made no official request for custody, she was offering to help, most likely in a financial way.’
As police try to hunt for a motive, the astonishing extent of the bitter feud at the heart of the Al-Hilli family was revealed yesterday.
In a letter written last year, murdered Saad Al-Hilli, 50, said his brother Zaid, 53, was a ‘control freak’ and he wanted to ‘wipe him out of my life’.
The aeronautical engineer told a childhood friend he had cut off his older brother after ‘underhand things’ took place over their late father’s assets.
His candid comments will interest detectives in Britain and France as they widen their investigation and examine potential tensions in the sprawling family of Iraqi refugees.
The letter was written by Saad Al-Hilli last September and appears to confirm previous suggestions of a possible inheritance dispute between himself and his brother Zaid.
For his part, Zaid has strenuously denied there was any feud between them and is said to be ‘devastated’.
Feud: In a letter written last year, murdered Saad Al-Hilli, 50, (right) said his brother Zaid, 53, (left) was a ‘control freak’ and he wanted to ‘wipe him out of my life’
Delayed reaction: Several hours after police arrived on scene, Mr Al-Hilli’s four-year-old daughter Zeena was found alive huddling under her mother’s legs inside the car
Saad told old friend Mae Faisal El-Wailly, who lives in Arizona and described the family as ‘wealthy and well-travelled’, that they are no longer speaking. He wrote: ‘Zaid and I do not communicate any more as he is another control freak and tried a lot of underhand things, even when my father was alive.
‘He tried to take control of my father’s assets and demanded control. Anyway it is a long story and now I have just had to wipe him out of my life.
‘Sad but I need to concentrate now on my wife and two lovely girls.’
It has also emerged that Saad was so angry about the will published after Kadhem Al-Hilli’s death in Spain last year that he made a legal application for it to be put on hold.
The ‘caveat’, a formal notice or warning, halted Zaid’s claim over their father’s estate while the dispute was resolved.
Detectives continue to hunt for a motive to the murder of Mr Al-Hilli, his wife, mother-in-law Suhaila Al-Allaf, and a passing local cyclist in Chevaline, on Lake Annecy, last Wednesday.
It is believed detectives are looking into Mr al-Hilli’s professional life for possible clues. He worked as a contractor for a satellite technology company in Surrey.
Police in Sweden were last night preparing to enter the spacious Stockholm flat owned by the 74-year-old mother-in-law in the hope of finding further clues to the mystery.
The country’s secret service has been formally approached by the French police to begin assisting with the inquiry.
There was no sign of Zaid Al-Hilli yesterday at two properties linked to him in the Chessington and Walton-on-Thames areas of Surrey.
The former public relations executive, who denies any link to the killings, has been interviewed by detectives over the weekend as a matter of routine.
A team of forensic experts continued to scour his brother’s £1million mock Tudor family home for clues in the leafy village of Claygate.
Firearms officers were called in at one point, carrying a large black holdall in and out of the house, prompting speculation a weapon had been found.
Police are preparing to interview other members of the family and business associates.
British police are acting on behalf of their French colleagues who face a mammoth task pulling together the threads of a huge and complex inquiry.
They have sent out an international request to police and security agencies asking for any information about the Al-Hilli family.
A team of four French police officers, led by the country’s most senior gendarmerie detective, Colonel Marc de Tarle, visited the Claygate property on Saturday.
They are also looking at Mr Al-Hilli’s professional life, including his work on defence projects for a high-tech satellite technology and imagery firm.
In Sweden, relatives of Mr Al-Hilli’s mother-in-law said they were shocked at the murder of the well-dressed retired English teacher.
Mrs Al-Allaf lived alone after the death of her husband in May and they said she ‘longed’ to spend more time with her daughter and grandchildren.
Last night her nephew, Hasan Ahmad Al-Saffar, 18, paid tribute to Mrs Al-Allaf and her ‘perfect family’. He said: ‘What has happened to them is so terrible, it’s almost impossible to talk about.
‘We had a lovely time together when they visited us a year ago. We took them around Stockholm to see the sights with the children, who were just two wonderful little girls.
‘Saad was a really loving father. He really took care of his daughters. Ikbal was a doting mother and the children were so well behaved.
‘We have no idea why this has happened or what led to it.
‘We can’t think of any reason for anything so horrible.
‘It’s been so shocking for us and everyone who knew them.’