Who will care for Alps massacre orphans?

A group of mums from a local school bring floral tributes to the al-Hilli family home in Claygate, England. Photo / Getty
A group of mums from a local school bring floral tributes to the al-Hilli family home in Claygate, England. Photo / Getty

The trauma of the two girls orphaned in the Alps massacre deepened yesterday, as it emerged that no family member has come forward to look after them.

Four-year-old Zeena Al-Hilli - who cowered under her mother's skirt as bullets riddled the family car - has spoken to police about the bloodbath.

Her elder sister, seven-year-old Zainab, remains in an artificial coma and is seen by police as the key to learning what happened.

But no one from the girls' family has travelled to France to be with them and they remain in the care of British consular staff and nurses.

Their uncle and closest living relative, Zaid Al-Hilli, 53, is being questioned in London today over an alleged feud between him and the girls' murdered father over an inheritance rumoured to be worth anything up to £1million, police said.

The desperate plight of the two little girls left alive emerged as it was also revealed that:

* It is now thought that two gunmen - including one on a motorbike - carried out the murders.

* A total of 25 bullets were fired at the victims, not 15 as previously thought, with at least three shots per victim.

* Police think it is a "miracle" the elder girl survived - and she may only be alive because the gunman ran out of bullets.

* Police praised the bravery of the "nerves of steel" shown by the British cyclist who telephoned for help on the day of the shootings, and who has been "unable to sleep" since Wednesday's attack.

* French police will question Mr Al-Hilli's brother Zaid just 48 hours after he walked into a British police station to deny any involvement in the case.

Iraq-born aerospace engineer Saad Al-Hilli, 50, his dentist wife Ikbal, 47, and his 74-year-old Swedish mother-in-law were killed by a hail of gunfire while in their BMW on holiday in the French Alps.

Local cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, a father-of-three, was shot dead after disturbing the killing spree, and was hit by five bullets.

Speaking about the children yesterday, Mr Maillaud added there had been much discussion about who will look after the orphans.

He confirmed no one has asked for custody of the orphaned children even though four-year-old Zeena could return home.

French prosecutor Eric Maillaud said: "I imagine she'll go back to Britain in a short timescale. We have to be able to identify members of her family, we have to make sure that they are people that can be trusted. You can imagine that we cannot entrust that little girl to the first person that turns up."

"I am not sure who the direct relatives are," he said. "There is a lot of concern for the two girls, they were totally devoted to their dad - they would follow him around and hug him the whole time."

Mr Maillaud said he hoped Zainab - who suffered a fractured skull and a bullet in the shoulder - could rebuild her life.

"It is a miracle the girl didn't get a bullet through her head and we feel that she may be able to start her life again," he said.

"We're hoping the little girl will talk at length. It's awful for a little girl to be a key witness, because she will have to talk about her own suffering, but she's seven and seven is the age of reason, sometimes. She can tell the colour of skin, the colour of clothes, and other information we need."

When asked if their uncle Zaid had offered to be the children's guardian, M. Maillaud replied: "Not to my knowledge."

Zainab, seven, was shot in the shoulder and beaten "savagely" about the head. She is in a medically induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital and police are awaiting permission to question her.

Her sister was unharmed and found so well hidden next to her mother and grandmother's body that it took police eight hours to find her.

Yesterday, Mr Maillaud said Zeena had identified her family, and described what he called the "fury" and "terror" of the attack to French police.

But he added that because she hid behind her mother and grandmother's skirts when the gunfire began she did not see anything important.

"This is a little girl who must be protected," he said. "She should go back to the UK soon so that she can try and forget this nightmare."

The prosecutor said: "We asked her, 'Who were you with?', and she said first, 'With my dad', and she gave a name, 'With my sister', she gave a name, 'My mother'.

"The little girl said, talking like a little girl does, she didn't know [the Swedish woman] very well. We have to assess very clearly, who was that lady with the Swedish passport?"

Police believe this woman was the girl's maternal grandmother.

French and British police are waiting for the go-ahead from medical staff at the hospital to talk to Zainab, who was hit with "tremendous ferocity".

Mr Maillaud said detectives hope the girl, who is in a stable condition, will recover sufficiently from the trauma to speak to them and that her memory was not damaged. He said: "We are waiting for the ballistic team's report and, when possible, a hearing with the eldest girl.

"Maybe she can give us information on the number of people present for example, or the colour of their skin, and other elements of description that might allow us to consider a bit more seriously a first lead."

On Thursday, some 12 gendarmes stood guard at the hospital alongside a number of security guards. Yesterday, there were no gendarmes, just two security guards.

Two British men who appeared to be policemen arrived at the Grenoble University Hospital where Zainab was believed to be staying.

A Surrey Police spokesman said the force was assisting the "complex" investigation by French authorities'.

"As part of this, the force is facilitating a visit by French investigators to conduct inquiries in the UK," he said.

"We are unable to confirm any details around the investigation and it is inappropriate to make any further comment at this time."

- Daily Mail

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