The families of three Britons killed in a shooting spree in the French Alps said they were “heartbroken” by their deaths but “touched by the expressions of sympathy from people all over the world”.
Engineer Saad al-Hilli, his wife and mother-in-law were brutally murdered in a remote spot close to Lake Annecy a week ago.
Ahmed Al-Saffar, the brother of Mrs al-Hilli’s dead mother, said: “The victim’s family and I are heartbroken by this shocking crime and we have been touched by the expressions of sympathy from people all over the world.
“The victim’s family are of Iraqi-Arabic origin. We are very grateful for the support provided by the British, French and Iraqi authorities during this difficult time.
“We hope that those responsible for the deaths of our loved ones are brought swiftly to justice.
“In the meantime, we would ask that the media understand that as a family we need time to grieve and we would therefore request that they respect our privacy at this intensely difficult time.”
The statement, on behalf of the al-Hilli and Al-Saffar families, came as Annecy’s chief prosecutor Eric Maillaud spoke about the investigation’s progress.
Mr Maillaud is due to travel to the UK tomorrow as part of an investigation into the murder, with examining magistrate Michel Mollin, another senior member of the inquiry team.
They will join a small number of French investigators already in Britain to help unravel the mystery surrounding the deaths of the three Britons and French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, who apparently stumbled across the attack.
Mr Maillaud told reporters that he hoped the inquiry would progress as quickly as possible.
He said the scene of the crime had been protected by the gendarmerie again today as witness statements were being checked for timings of sightings, which often changed when people thought for longer about what they had seen.
As for the al-Hillis’ seven-year-old daughter Zainab, who survived the killings, Mr Maillaud said: “She will, of course, be listened to very specifically, but her doctors have got to be able to help her try to get back to the best possible health, and eventually hope she will express herself.”
He said she is a key witness – “the only person alive who actually could have seen something” – but warned that she is seven years old and has been “very damaged”.
Mr Maillaud said 40 French officers were working on the complex case which has led to a flurry of theories relating to possible motives.
But he gave no indication that French authorities were any closer to solving the murders, suggesting it could be years before answers emerge.
Investigators are focusing on three specific areas – Mr al-Hilli’s work, his family and his native Iraq.
The latter has been at the centre of considerable attention and Mr Maillaud said a “specialised” team was tasked with examining Mr al-Hilli’s links to the country.
He said: “The fact that he was born in Iraq, that he had family in Iraq, of course that’s something that is of interest and we are asking ourselves if there is a link between that and his death.
He added: “There are specialised people as far as Iraq is concerned who are looking at it, in other words, people who know who to contact in order to be able to work with that country so, for example, we have a security attache we are working with.”
Mr Maillaud said the large part of the investigation was taking place in the UK and that French authorities believe there could be a “great number of clues” in Britain.
But he refused to be drawn on the main area of the inquiry’s focus.