PARIS (AP) — French and British police on Saturday searched the U.K. home of a British-Iraqi couple brutally slain while vacationing in the French Alps, while investigators looked into a possible family dispute as a potential motive for the attack.
The brother of the man shot dead with his wife and two others came forward to British police Friday and denied any conflict in the family, French prosecutors said.
Authorities have identified the dead as mechanical design engineer Saad al Hilli and his wife, Ikbal.
Their identification was based partly on the testimony of their 4-year-old daughter Zeena, who survived unhurt by hiding under her mother's skirt as some 25 automatic-handgun rounds were fired at the family car. Her old sister, 7-year-old Zaina, was badly wounded in the attack and is receiving medical care.
French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, whom authorities suspect was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was also killed in Wednesday's rampage. Investigators were working to identify a fourth victim, an elderly, Iraqi-born Swedish woman also inside the family's vehicle.
Early reports suggested the woman was the girls' grandmother, but that has not been confirmed by authorities.
Swedish authorities have confirmed that a passport discovered on the scene corresponds to a Swedish person living in Sweden, but as yet no absolute connection has been made between the older woman in the car and either the passport or between her and the rest of the victims, the local prosecutor said Saturday.
Eric Maillaud, the French prosecutor in Annecy near the site of the killing, said each of the victims was shot twice in the head, in addition to an undisclosed additional number of times elsewhere. Autopsies on the bodies were completed late Friday, Maillaud said.
Maillaud said relatives of the dead have arrived in France to help care for the two young sisters, but he would not identify them or say how many there were. The bodies of the victims will be returned to their family "as soon as possible," Maillaud said.
French news agency Sipa reported that four French investigators had arrived in Britain on Friday night. TV footage on Saturday showed police in forensic gear snapping pictures of the home of Saad al Hilli in the village of Claygate, a London suburb in the county of Surrey.
Two female officers carried boxes with equipment and evidence bags into an investigation tent erected outside the home and police wore white crime-scene overalls as they prepared to conduct the search, an apparent joint operation with French officers.
French authorities, cautious about tipping off the culprit or culprits, have offered only a trickle of clues about the investigation. Surrey police have declined to provide other details, but say they are assisting French authorities with their investigation.
Maillaud remained tight-lipped throughout Saturday's news conference, saying he was "at the limits" of what he could publically disclose. He said another news conference will "probably" be organized in the middle of next week.
Maillaud said British police reported that Saad may have feuded with his brother Zaid over money. On Friday, after learning about media reports that cited authorities' suspicion about a possible family dispute, Zaid went to British police and told them, "I have no conflict with my brother," according to Maillaud.
But Mae Faisal El-Wailly, a childhood friend of the brothers, made available a letter written to her by Saad last year that alluded to a possible inheritance dispute. She said the brothers' father had died recently, and she described the family as wealthy and well-traveled.
El-Wailly added that she did not believe Zaid had anything to do with the killings.
"Zaid and I do not communicate any more as he is another control freak and tried a lot of underhanded things even when my father was alive," Saad wrote. The letter was dated Sept. 16, 2011.
"He tried to take control of father's assets and demanded control," the letter says. "(A)nyway it is a long story and now I have just had to wipe him out of my life. Sad but I need to concentrate now on my wife and two lovely girls ..."
Public records show Zaid resigned from Saad's small aeronautics design firm, Shtech Ltd., last year.
Maillaud said he had not heard about any possible inheritance issue and that Zaid remains "a free man."
The prosecutor also said it was a "miracle" that the dead couple's older daughter, 7-year-old Zaina, who was shot in the shoulder and beaten, survived. She remained unconscious Friday in a medically induced coma in a Grenoble hospital, under close police guard.
Vinograd reported from London. Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten reported from Annecy, France.