LONDON: An army bomb disposal squad was last night sent to the house of a British family shot dead in the French Alps, while the security cordon was widened and neighbouring homes evacuated.
The local Surrey police force told reporters they had evacuated the immediate area around the al-Hilli family home in the village of Claygate, south-west of London, due to ''concerns about items found at the address''. A source told Agence France-Presse that a ''potentially explosive substance'' had been found at the house. The squad left after about three hours and the cordon was removed.
Meanwhile, the seven-year-old girl who was shot and beaten during the attack that killed her parents has regained consciousness in a French hospital with relatives at her side, but has not yet been questioned by police.
Zainab al-Hilli is viewed by police as the key witness to the shootings last Wednesday in which her mother, father and grandmother and a passing cyclist were gunned down in the French Alps near Lake Annecy.
The chief prosecutor leading the inquiry, Eric Maillaud, said: ''We hope that the age of seven is the age of reason and that she will be able to provide descriptions about the number of people, whether men or women, the colour of their clothes, and who could have committed this.''
Zainab has a fractured skull from a suspected pistol-whipping as well as a gunshot wound to the shoulder. Mr Maillaud described her survival as a miracle. She will be questioned by police who specialise in child witnesses.
Her sister Zeena, 4, who was found cowering under her mother's legs in the back of the family car eight hours after the bodies were discovered, has flown back to Britain accompanied by relatives, police and a social worker.
Mr Maillaud said Zeena had identified family members and described the ''fury'' and ''terror'' of the attack to French police. He said she had heard shots and cries but was unable to advance the inquiry.
Last Wednesday Iraqi-born Saad al-Hilli, his wife Iqbal, Iqbal's mother Suhaila al-Allaf and the cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 45, were killed by assassins who put two bullets into each person's head, leading to speculation that it was a professional hit.
Police are investigating Mr al-Hilli's work as an engineer for a company that makes defence surveillance satellites.