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Quadruple Killing In French Alps Yields Few Leads


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. French police investigating the murder of a British family in the French Alps last week now say all of the bullets came from just one semi-automatic weapon. The attack took the life of a husband and wife, a grandmother and a passing cyclist. Both the killer and the motive remain a mystery and the case has been drawing huge media coverage on both sides of the English Channel. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The chilling crime scene was discovered last Wednesday afternoon in the Alps. A BMW station wagon pulled over on a mountain road. Inside, with two bullet holes to their heads, was a man, in the driver's seat, and two women sitting behind. Outside the car was a seven-year-old girl, gravely wounded but alive, and a French cyclist, also shot in the head, who had had the misfortune of passing by at the time of the attack. Police said they found 25 spent cartridges around the site that all came from a single gun.


BEARDSLEY: The murders are receiving non-stop coverage in the French and British media. The family had spent several days camping at Lake Annecy. Police thought they had found all the dead until campers told them the family had two girls, not just one. The investigators returned to the sealed crime scene some eight hours later, around midnight. On the floor of the car, hiding under the legs and skirts of the slain mother and grandmother, they found a four-year-old girl, physically unharmed, but in a state of shock. Peter Ricketts, the British Ambassador to France, came quickly to the scene.

PETER RICKETTS: Clearly this is a terrible, tragic event. A brutal murder. But also, this traumatic experience for these two young girls.

BEARDSLEY: Ricketts said French and British police were cooperating fully, and following every possible lead. The dead couple has been identified. Saad al-Hilli, a mechanical engineer and his wife, Ikbal. They emigrated to Britain from Iraq 10 years ago. The al-Hilli's lived in the small, well-off community of Claygate, south of London.


BEARDSLEY: Today, a bomb squad evacuated the houses surrounding the al-Hilli residence after finding a suspicious substance in an outdoor shed on their property. It turned out to be a false alert. So far, there doesn't seem to be much to go on. Authorities are probing whether an alleged financial dispute between Saad al-Hilli and his brother over their father's assets played a role. Eric Maillaud is the head French prosecutor on the case.

ERIC MAILLAUD: (Through Translator) There is no question that whoever did this was absolutely determined to leave no one alive on that mountain road, and had no problem killing children.

BEARDSLEY: Maillaud said he would not communicate regularly with the press and was at the limits of what he could reveal if police hoped to solve the case. This weekend the traumatized four-year-old was flown back to Britain and her seven-year-old sister emerged from her coma. She has not yet spoken to police, but is thought to be the only real witness to the crime. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.