French Alps shooting witness, 7, emerges from coma

9th September 2012, Comments 0 comments

A young British girl seen as the key witness in a quadruple murder in the French Alps has come out of an artificial coma, an official said Sunday, raising hopes she could give police vital clues.

Detectives are anxious to speak to seven-year-old Zainab al-Hilli whom doctors placed in an artificial coma to assist her recovery from a fractured skull.

"The little girl has come out of the artificial coma but she is under sedation and her speech is not yet audible," said Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaud

Zainab, who is thought to have been pistol whipped during the attack, is seen as the only person who can tell officers what happened.

Her British-Iraqi parents Saad and Iqbal al-Hilli along with an elderly relative and a French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, who is believed to have stumbled across the scene, were killed in the attack that has baffled police in France and Britain.

Authorities say that when doctors give their approval Zainab will be questioned by investigators specialising in child witnesses.

But even as she emerged from the coma, it was clear it could be some time before she could be interviewed.

"It is out of the question to go and interview her in any sort of rushed way. She is extremely traumatised. Only the doctors have the ability to say (when she can be interviewed), and until I get the green light I will do nothing," Maillaud said on Saturday.

The chance to interview Zainab is all the more important because the inquiry team has already ruled out obtaining any information from her traumatised four-year-old sister Zeena.

The younger girl survived the attack unhurt because she was hidden beneath her mother's body, but she remained there undiscovered for eight hours after the shootings.

She returned to Britain on Sunday with relatives who had flown out to France to collect her.

Meanwhile, police said they were re-examining the scene and exploring other possibilities including that the killings were carried out by a lone deranged killer.

"Is this the work of a crazy person? Was the family the real target? Is it possible that it was the cyclist? Only work based on complete information can help us to see things clearly," police officer Benoit Vinneman told AFP.

All four victims were killed by two gun shots to the head, fuelling earlier suspicions that the murders could have been a professional hit.

But Vinneman said police had a number of hypotheses and that "it would be an error to focus on that of an ordered execution".

Police were also trying to nail down the exact movements of the Hilli family before they were gunned down on a remote forest road near Annecy, said Vinneman.

Around 25 police on Saturday combed a large area for clues but failed to turn up anything of interest, said the police commander of the eastern Haute-Savoie department Bertrand Francois.

Around 25 casings were found at the scene of the killing but officers have said they will not disclose ballistics analysis for fear of compromising the investigation.

© 2012 AFP

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