PARIS Investigations into a quadruple murder in the French Alps seven days ago are focusing on one of the victim's Iraqi connections, his work as an engineer and a mooted family feud, but solving the case may take years, a French prosecutor said on Wednesday.
Eric Maillaud, a prosecutor in the Annecy lake area where a cyclist and three members of a holidaying British family were shot dead, said investigators were waiting to talk to the only person who may have seen what happened - a girl of seven who survived the attack but was shot and brutally beaten.
"This is painstaking work. It's the kind of case that can take two years, three years or 10 years," Maillaud told a news conference. "Big cases like this are rarely solved in three to six months."
Maillaud said he planned to fly to Britain on Thursday to join police combing the home of Saad al-Hilli, an Iraqi-born engineer found shot dead with his wife and mother-in-law in their BMW car on a remote mountain road near the village of Chevaline, not far from the Swiss and Italian borders.
Hilli, a mechanical engineer who worked with Surrey Satellite Technology, a subsidiary of aerospace and defense firm EADS, and the others were shot in what appeared to be execution-style killings, with at least two hits to the head from a semi-automatic pistol, investigators say.
Maillaud and his team are waiting to question one of two young Hilli daughters who survived an attack in which a French cyclist was also found shot dead near the British family car.
Seven-year-old Zainab al-Hilli, who suffered serious skull fractures, came out of a medically induced coma on Sunday but was not yet fit to be approached for questioning.
Zainab's four-year-old sister Zeena survived unscathed and was found close to eight hours after police arrived at the murder scene last Wednesday, having hidden under the legs and skirt of her dead mother in the rear footwell of the car.
Concerning her father's Baghdad ties, French Gendarme Benoit Vinnemann, one of the chief police investigators on the case, said specialists used to dealing with Iraq had been recruited to help but said it was a natural path of inquiry like the others.
"People should stop fantasizing that the secret services must be behind this because there is an Iraqi facet to it," he told the media conference.
Maillaud, clearly frustrated at times by questioning about the speed of progress, said nothing would be neglected in the effort to solve the case.
"When you work on such complex criminal cases you look at every possible facet - the madman, collective suicide, Martians, little green men - everything, absolutely everything," he said.
(Reporting by Catheirne Lagrange and Brian Love; Editing by Louise Ireland)