Alps shooting: Bomb squad searches house

British army bomb disposal experts have examined suspicious items found at the home of a family murdered in the Alps but found they are not hazardous.

Police evacuated neighbours in the commuter village of Claygate near London while the bomb squad checked what a source described as a "potentially explosive substance" before eventually giving the all clear.

The development was the latest twist in the killings of Iraqi-born Saad al-Hilli, his wife Ikbal and his mother-in-law in their car near Annecy in southeastern France last Wednesday. A French cyclist was also killed in the attack.

Police have been searching the family home for days for clues to the killings and were on Monday also spending a third day interviewing Hilli's brother, who has denied being embroiled in a property dispute with the dead man.

Surrey Police, the force which is co-operating with French detectives on the inquiry, said it "can confirm that items found at an address this morning 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 outbuildings in the garden. A bomb disposal unit was called to the scene to carry out an assessment as a precautionary measure."

A cordon surrounding the area was lifted and neighbours were allowed to return to their homes, but the Hilli family's house and garden remains taped-off while the search continues, police said.

A British army Royal Logistics Corps bomb disposal van spent about two hours at the scene, an AFP photographer said.

In France, a source close to the investigation said only one weapon, a 7.65mm automatic pistol that is believed to be relatively old-fashioned, was used in the shooting.

The revelation followed initial analysis of 25 spent cartridges discovered at the scene of the murder and bullets retrieved from the corpses of the four victims.

The high number of shots fired at the scene had led to speculation that there might have been more than one shooter.

Meanwhile the elder of Hilli's two daughters - both of whom survived the attack - remained under sedation yesterday and was unable to speak to investigators who hope that she can help them unravel the mystery.

Zainab al-Hilli, seven, is recovering from a fractured skull and a bullet wound in the shoulder. Her four-year-old sister Zeena survived the attack unscathed after hiding in the family car.

"When the doctors give us authorisation we will be able to interview her in hospital but for the moment they are not allowing it," Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud said.

"She was in an induced coma which she was brought out of on Sunday but she remains under sedation. It is a normal process."

Zeena, who lay motionless under her mother's corpse for eight hours following Wednesday's shooting, has also been unable to provide any significant information about the attack.

She returned to Britain on Sunday.

- AFP

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