'No fault' for not spotting car girl

Interior minister defends gendarmes as police look at possible family financial feud as motive for Annecy killings

GENDARMES who failed to spot four-year-old British girl Zeena al-Hilli as she hid underneath her dead mother's body in the back of a bullet-riddled BMW near Lake Annecy have been defended by Interior Minister Manuel Valls who said there was "No fault".

Asked on RTL if the gendarmes made a mistake in not spotting the girl for eight hours as they guarded the scene where four people were murdered, he said:

"I'm not going to get involved in this sort of useless and unjustified discussion. The gendarmes, investigators, technicians and medical teams completed a high-quality job.

"I think there was no fault and I remind you that this little girl was found alive."

Police are looking at several motives for the killings in a forest car park at Chevaline where Zeena's father Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and her 77-year-old mother were all shot in the head inside the UK-registered estate car. The family were from Claygate, Surrey.

A cyclist, Frenchman Sylvain Mollier, 45, was also shot in the head when he is thought to have chanced upon the killers. He was on paternity leave from work in Ugine, about 10 miles away. One report said he had been shot five times.

A post-mortem examination was being carried out today on the victims and officers said the killings had the hallmark of a "professional" with the victims killed with two shots.

They had been given information from the UK that Mr al-Hilli, an Iraq-born British engineer, had recently been in Baghdad and Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud said detectives were looking at a financial motive for the killings, with a possible dispute over money between Mr al-Hilli and his brother, as one line of inquiry.

Last night investigators spoke through a British Embassy interpreter to Zeena but she was not able to give very much extra information, Mr Maillaud said.

She and her sister, seven year old Zainab, are under guard in separate hospitals in case the killers return. Zainab is said to be stable after being put into an artificial coma while surgeons operated on her head and a bullet wound in her shoulder.

Valls denounced the killers as "barbaric" and said they had bludgeoned Zeena's sister on the head in an attempt to kill her. He said police were moving to catch the killer or killers as quickly as possible and were following up all possible leads.

They are said to be looking for a dark green 4x4 seen speeding down the road from the forest by several witnesses.

Mr Maillaud praised the actions of a British expat who discovered the bodies.

The man, a former RAF serviceman, had been out cycling when he came to the car park and found Zainab badly injured. He put her on her side in the recovery position, an action Mr Maillaud said probably saved her life.

Screengrab: FranceTVinfo