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September 7, 2012

Girl found alive under corpses after massacre in France

By Paul Robins
The Daily Star

CHEVALINE, France — The British family massacred in the French Alps were executed by a professional hitman, police suspected last night.

Three of the four victims were shot in the middle of the head at point-blank range.

Surrey businessman Saad Al-Hilli, 50, his wife Ikbal and her mother, a Swedish national, were found slaughtered inside their bullet-ridden BMW on Wednesday.

The suspected gangland hit on the family was so quick they did not have time to turn off the car engine.

It was still running when the bodies were found.

Incredibly the couple's two little girls survived the horrific shootings which had all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

The youngest, four-year-old Zeena, was found in a state of shock after hiding beneath her mum's bloodied corpse for eight hours.

Bungling police only discovered the traumatised tot at midnight after waiting for forensic experts to reach the crime scene.

Her older sister, seven-year-old Zainab, was found nearby with a fractured skull after being blasted three times and beaten. She was in a coma in hospital under armed police guard last night amid fears the killers will return to finish the job.

A cyclist, French dad-of-three Sylvain Mollier, 45, also died in the chilling massacre near the quiet Alpine village of Chevaline in eastern France.

Police revealed the gunman fired 15 shots through the windows of the BMW using a semi-automatic pistol.

But no-one reported hearing any noise, fuelling speculation that it was a professional hitman using a silencer.

Prosecutor Eric Maillaud told a press conference: "We're talking about an act of gross savagery."

Iraqi-born Mr Al-Hilli, the 77-year-old grandmother and the cyclist all suffered clinical bullet shots to the centre of the forehead, he said.

Their bodies were discovered by a British cyclist who was praised for his quick thinking.

The rider, a former RAF serviceman, spotted Zainab lying in the road and placed her in the recovery position.

He then smashed a window and turned the car engine off before finding the other three bodies in the car.

Mr Maillaud said they only discovered little Zeena hiding in terror after holidaymakers at the family's campsite in Saint Jorioz revealed they had two children.

As soon as investigators opened the door, the terrified tot smiled and reached out her arms.

"She could not tell the difference between the good guys and bad guys," he said.

She is currently being cared for by child psychiatrists in hospital.

Yesterday neighbours of the family in upmarket Claygate, Surrey, spoke of their shock.

Jack Saltman, 67, said Mr Al-Hilli had told him something before he went away that could be a clue.

Mr Saltman said: "It is something he talked to me about that might be of no use to the police, but is something I feel I should tell them.

"But that is the way it will stay until the police know, and it is up to them then what they do with it."

It was also reported that Mr Al-Hilli was known to the security services and was put under Metropolitan Police Special Branch surveillance during the second Gulf war.

He moved to Britain from Baghdad more than a decade ago with his dentist wife Ikbal, 50, and is believed to have worked as an executive at a Wiltshirebased aerial photo firm. Neighbour George Aicolina said: "They were very, very close and loved the girls very much - a happy loving family. He very much liked camping, it was his thing. They had a big caravan. He was a very nice neighbour.

"It doesn't add up. They wouldn't have had any enemies. He's not Mr Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. They were a very happy, caring family."

Masked A family friend, who did not want to be named, added: "Saad was a perfect father and wonderful engineer, they were a wonderful family.

"He said he was taking two weeks off. They used to go to France quite often."

Holidaymakers at the caravan park also told how the family had been seen enjoying themselves swimming, relaxing and walking since they arrived on Monday. Didier Berthollet, mayor of Chevaline, said residents were shellshocked by the killings.

He added: "We have never seen such horror on our doorsteps before."

The murder of the cyclist has led detectives to believe the gunman was determined not to leave any witnesses.

Police are also investigating reports of a white car seen speeding away from the scene and possible links to a botched carjacking 50 miles away.

Four masked attackers they tried to steal two cars around Rousillon, in the Isere region, on Wednesday night. Postmortems are due to be carried out on the bodies today. The Foreign Office said the British Embassy's deputy head of mission in France was at the scene and liaising with police.

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