Annecy shootings: Police investigate possible family row motive

French prosecutor says feud over money is one line of inquiry that police are following

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The Independent Online

French prosecutors today turned their attention to an alleged family feud as investigators continued to probe the grisly slaying of three members of a British-Iraqi family on holiday in France.

Saad al-Hilli, 50, from Surrey, along with his wife and mother-in-law were shot dead in the popular tourist region surrounding Lake Annecy in southern France.

A fourth person also killed in the shooting, was named yesterday as as Sylvain Mollier, a 40-year-old father of three who worked at a firm in the area. He had no links with the family.

Mr Al-Hilli's two daughters, Zeena, four, and Zainab, seven, both survived the attack - although the latter suffered horrific head injuries and was found bloodied and reportedly beaten in the road near the family BMW.

Last night she was in an artificially-induced coma at a hospital in Grenoble.

The younger girl, Zeena, reportedly survived by hiding for eight hours under the body of her dead mother in the BMW estate.

The children, who are apparently the only witnesses to the incident, were under close police protection today.

The grisly scene was discovered by a British cyclist who happened to be in the area. 

Unconfirmed reports emerged yesterday of an alleged feud between the girls' father and his brother over money.

Prosecutor Eric Maillaud told a news agency that the feud was one line of inquiry that the police were following.

Mr Maillaud said: "It seems that there was a dispute between the two brothers about money. This seems to be credible information coming from the British police. The brother will have to be questioned at length. Every lead will be meticulously followed."

Zaid al-Hilli is understood to have walked into a British police station to help with the investigation and has denied any involvement. 

Post-mortem examinations on the four victims will be carried out today at the nearby Grenoble Medical-Legal Institute. 

Reports yesterday claimed that three out of four of the shooting victims died after being shot in the middle of the head - prompting speculation that the killings were part of a targeted 'hit' on the family.

Further speculation also suggested that the killings may have been related to an unsuccessful car-jacking, or burglary.

However, the French media were yesterday reporting sources saying that the murders resembled an assassination rather than a robbery which went wrong.

There were no reports that shots were heard at the time of the shooting, prompting the suggestion that silencers were used.

Despite speculation the motive for the killings remains unclear.

Sky News, citing neighbors in the British village of Claygate, identified al-Hilli's wife as Iqbal, the 7-year-old as Zehab and the 4-year-old as Zeinab.

The French have declined to confirm identities, pending results of DNA and fingerprint tests.

Today, relatives of the two girls were being taken to France to be reunited with the children.

Sir Peter Ricketts, the British ambassador to France, said today that the elder girl was still “seriously ill” but in a stable condition in hospital.

He also said that both sisters were being looked after by consular staff.

Sir Peter also said: “We're all determined to get to the bottom of this as soon as we can.

“Everybody shares the same determination that the perpetrators of this awful crime are brought to justice as soon as possible.

“This is particularly violent and brutal, but also has this heartrending dimension of the two small girls. It's a unique case in my experience.”

Speculation continued to be rife today about the possibility that the incident was part of a targeted assassination.

A friend of the family known only as James said that Mr Al-Hilli had moved from Iraq in the 1970s after their mechanical engineering business was looked upon "unfavourably" by Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party.

The Daily Mail also reported that Mr Al-Hilli was known to British security services and had been under Special Branch surveillance during the second Gulf war.

However, Scotland Yard is yet to comment, and there is as yet no evidence to suggest a link between the deaths and national security.