x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Relatives arrive to take sisters who survived French Alps killings

French investigators plan to question the brother of the family's slain patriarch, who has denied reports that the two had a financial dispute.

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.

"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 Briton born in Iraq, his wife Ikbal and his 74-year-old mother-in-law gunned down 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 survived the attack and hid undetected for eight hours under her dead mother's skirts.

A local man, 45-year-old Sylvain Mollier, was also killed after apparently stumbling on the attack on the family's car.

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 "traumatised" Zeena are hope that the elder sister Zainab, who was still in an artificial coma as of late Friday, could provide some clues.

Investigators are pinning their hopes on Zainab, who they have described as a "key witness" in a case that has so far left them baffled.

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

Three French investigators arrived in Britain on Friday to coordinate with British police and another was due to arrive on Saturday.

A French police source told AFP investigators would begin searching the family's home in Surrey, a British county southwest of London, on Saturday morning.

"The search will begin this morning," the source said, adding that French investigators would first be briefed by British counterparts on local procedures.

The source said the search would be "very long" and would go "beyond the day".

French and British police would also to meet for a strategy session and to form investigation teams.

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

"Italy is an hour and a half away, Switzerland an hour away. Investigators have asked for help of all neighbouring 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.

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-coloured four-wheel drive vehicle speed away from the scene.