UK media reacts to French Alps massacre

2012-09-07 07:53
Gendarmes leave the site of a shooting rampage that left four adults dead and a 7-year-old girl hospitalised near Chevaline, France. (Laurent Cipriani, AP)

Gendarmes leave the site of a shooting rampage that left four adults dead and a 7-year-old girl hospitalised near Chevaline, France. (Laurent Cipriani, AP)

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London - The horrific massacre of a British-Iraqi family in the French Alps dominated the front pages of Britain's newspapers on Friday with the performance of French investigators coming under the microscope.

Three bodies - a man and two women - were found inside a British-registered BMW estate car on Wednesday afternoon. The body of a second male victim was lying nearby.

The chilling nature of the attack and possible motives dominated British press coverage but questions were also asked about the competence of French officials after it took them eight hours to realise there was a young girl alive in the car.

The 4-year-old is believed to be the daughter of two victims, as is a 7-year-old girl who also survived the attack.

Popular tabloid The Sun carried the front-page headline "Where's Mummy?", the words uttered by the young survivor when rescued by police.

A French police source named the dead driver as Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old born in Iraq but resident in Surrey, southeast England.

Media reaction

Neighbours said he was an engineer and identified one of the women, who was carrying an Iraqi passport, as his wife Iqbal. They identified the other woman, a 74-year-old with a Swedish passport, as his mother-in-law and the couple's daughters as Zainab, aged seven, and Zeena, aged four.

Authorities in France identified the fourth victim, a cyclist who arrived at the scene by chance, as local man Sylvain Mollier.

The Mirror ran with the headline "I'm scared", referring to a comment made by Hilli to a neighbour before leaving for his French holiday.

The Telegraph led with comments made by a French prosecutor, who suggested that the dead man may have been involved in a family dispute.

The Daily Mail, which carried the headline "Executed", suggested the row was over an inheritance, and also claimed that the dead father was known to British intelligence services.

According to a neighbour, police working with intelligence agencies had carried out surveillance on Hilli at the time of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Mail reported.

Speculation, analysis

The horror and intrigue which shroud the incident suggest that France will be the focus of much British press attention over the coming weeks.

"It could be that the first officers called to the rural beauty spot in the French countryside simply 'panicked' when confronted with the horror," said the Mail.

"In the UK, a doctor would be called to certify death - doing so, in this instance, could have alerted officers that the child was alive amidst the carnage in the car," it added.

In an analysis piece for the Guardian, Fiachra Gibbons argued that the case could reveal deeper complexities in the Anglo-French relationship.

"Beyond the cold horror of each emerging detail of what happened in that forest car park... another dread question is twisting French stomachs. Why do they have to be English?" he wrote.

"Contrary to popular belief... the French are unusually sensitive about what foreigners think of them, obsessively comparing themselves with their neighbours, particularly the British, whom they see as their eternal opposites.

'Violent underbelly'

"Yet there is no hiding a profound and collective feeling of guilt, not just because it took gendarmes eight hours to find the girl trembling at her mother's feet, but that this should have happened at all, to people holidaying in France," he concluded.

The Telegraph's Colin Randall argued that the case could alter Britons' views of France as a holiday destination.

"We flock across the Channel for our holiday... but the massacre near Annecy reveals the violent underbelly beneath France's bucolic charm," he wrote.

"There is something about France that persuades its British admirers they are in an infinitely better place.

"The dreadful fate that befell a family of holidaymakers from Surrey on Wednesday afternoon... brought a bleak reminder of a more sinister aspect of France that presented itself in the least likely of locations," he added.

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