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7-year-old girl in French Alps shooting awakens from coma

Justin Tallis / AFP - Getty Images

A British police officer searches the Hilli family home. Saad al-Hilli and his wife Ikbal were both shot dead in their car in the French Alps on Wednesday. An older woman riding with them -- presumably a grandmother -- and a French cyclist passing by were also fatally shot. The two daughters, age 7 and 4, were spared.

Zainab al-Hilli, the 7-year-old British girl who survived a gun attack in the French Alps last week that saw her father and mother shot dead, is out of a coma and will be questioned by police as soon as she is able, a French prosecutor said Sunday.

"(Zainab) has come out of her artificial coma and she is now sedated," Eric Maillaud, the regional prosecutor, told Reuters. "She is better and her condition is improving little by little. She will be able to be questioned.”

It has been five days since a British cyclist came across a chilling scene: Three people shot dead inside a BMW, its engine still running. Nearby was a dead cyclist, 45-year-old Sylvain Mollier. The British cyclist recognized him because he had passed him on the road earlier. Outside the car, a 7-year-old was gravely wounded and appeared to have been beaten.


French forensics experts who performed autopsies on the three British victims and the French bicyclist determined that all four had been shot twice directly in the head – indicating, Maillaud said, that the shooters were intent on killing their victims.

Related: Alps slaying victims each shot twice in head

The motive for these slayings remains unclear, and the shooters remain at large.

Eight hours after police arrived at the crime scene, they discovered Zainab’s sister, 4-year-old Zeena, who had been hiding under her mother’s skirt. Zeena has since returned home to Britain with relatives.

Related: Girl, 4, hid for eight hours in car filled with corpses

Justin Tallis / AFP - Getty Images

A British police crime scene investigator examines the interior of a window inside the British home of a family shot dead in their car in the French Alps on Wednesday.

Maillaud said investigators had gleaned little from their "moving" chat on Friday with Zeena, who had been in a psychiatric hospital in Grenoble, accompanied by a nurse and British embassy staff.

Meanwhile, French and British police continued their search of the Hilli family home in Surrey near London of Saad al-Hilli, father of the two girls who was among the three shot dead in the car. The two others were his wife, Ikbal, and an older woman with a Swedish passport. Zeena told authorities she didn't know the woman well; they believe the woman was her maternal grandmother. 

Police erected a tent in front of the family's $1.6 million house on Sunday. 

Hilli, who had moved to the U.K. as a child from Iraq, was a mechanical engineer who contracted with Surrey Satellite Technology, a subsidiary of aerospace and defense firm EADS. A company statement described him as "an experienced and committed engineer."

He helped to design the kitchen of the European Airbus aircraft, according to Julian Stedman, his accountant since 2004. He specialized in computer-aided design and mostly worked from his house in the village of Claygate, said Stedman.

British police have refused to comment on British media reports Hilli was known to security services and was under police surveillance early on in the Iraq war.

His wife Ikbal, 47, had been training as a dentist.

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The case has sparked great interest in Britain and has not left the front pages of newspapers since news of the murders broke on September 5.

Most Sunday papers ran the story across several pages, speculating about motives, including robbery, a family feud or a possible link to Hilli's work in the aerospace industry.

Maillaud said a family feud over money was one of several motives still being considered for the murders and Hilli's brother had been formally questioned.

The brother, Zaid al-Hilli, has denied any dispute with Hilli. 

"He is being questioned as a witness." Maillaud said. "It's a lead that is serious and interesting, but so is the profession of the dead person and his Iraqi origins."

In France, police returned to the scene of the crime on Sunday and widened the area of investigation.

"We are trying to see how those who committed these acts were able to get away," Maillaud said.

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