France shootings: Possible family row over money probed

The BBC's Jon Sopel has been allowed up to the scene of the shootings for the first time

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French prosecutors say a possible family dispute over money is one of their lines of inquiry into the killings of four people in the Alps.

Three members of a UK family - named as Saad al-Hilli, 50, from Surrey, his wife and mother-in-law - were shot dead near Lake Annecy on Wednesday.

A French cyclist thought to have been a witness was found shot dead nearby.

The BBC understands there was a dispute between Mr al-Hilli and his brother over inheritance from their parents.

Saad al-Hilli Mr al-Hilli's daughters are believed to be the only witnesses to Wednesday's killings

This involved a house in Spain left by the men's father, who died last year.

A family friend has also told BBC News of tension with Mr al-Hilli's brother, Zaid, after the family home in Claygate, Surrey - which had apparently been in their mother's name - was left to Saad.

Speaking to AFP news agency, prosecutor Eric 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."

Police protection

Post-mortem examinations are due to be carried out on the four victims' bodies on Friday.

Jack Saltman, neighbour: "I don't think he was anything other than a hard-working engineer who adored his family"

And for the first time since the shootings, French police have lifted a road block some two miles from the site - where blood-stained pebbles, tyre marks and small shards of glass could still be seen.

A dent at the back of the car park where the family's BMW estate hit a bank of dirt during the attack was also visible.

Police hope to question Mr al-Hilli's four-year-old daughter, who spent about eight hours hiding in the car with the bodies of her parents before being discovered by officers at midnight on Wednesday.

Another daughter, aged seven, was in a medically-induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital after being shot once and suffering head injuries.

Analysis

The French police, now working together with British investigators, are at the start of a major inquiry.

They insist that nothing is being ruled out, but there are indications that a row, possibly over money, with other family members is one angle the police are exploring.

Even that seems a fragile explanation for such a savage attack, but clearly the police need to examine everything.

France's top forensic and ballistics experts are combing through every piece of evidence they can find from the crime scene.

But, they don't have a weapon, or a getaway car. And the only witnesses are two little girls, aged just seven and four. They are in hospital, the seven-year-old with major head injuries, the four-year-old, deeply traumatised.

They have witnessed something horrific, they both lost their parents. But soon, the police will need to talk to them.

Both girls are under police protection in hospital.

Neighbours in Claygate named the wife as Iqbal, the elder daughter as Zainab and the younger daughter as Zeena. Mr al-Hilli, who was originally from Iraq, has not yet been officially named by the French authorities.

The cyclist has been named as 45-year-old Sylvain Mollier.

Mr Maillaud said three of the four victims of the killings had been shot in the head, and that the motive for the attack, in Chevaline, remained a mystery.

"I won't say it was professional, what I will say is it was tremendous savagery. And what is certain is that somebody wanted to kill," he said.

An automatic pistol was used, and the killer "targeted" the victims rather than indiscriminately firing into the car.

The family friend said that the al-Hilli family had fled Iraq in the 1970s because they were seen as opponents of Saddam Hussain.

But he added that Saad al-Hilli was "not a man who made enemies", describing him as devoted to his family.

Local French police said a British cyclist, who had served in the RAF, found the adults and a child on a forest road. They said there were signs of a vehicle braking at the scene.

Police in Surrey said they were working with the French authorities and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The family had arrived on holiday at the nearby Le Solitaire du Lac campsite in Saint-Jorioz on Monday and had been due to leave at the end of the week.

French President Francois Hollande said the authorities would "do our utmost to find the perpetrators".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Obviously the faster we can get to the bottom of what happened, the better."

The British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, described it as a "terrible, tragic event, a brutal murder".

Saad al-Halli and his family arrive at the Solitaire du Lac camp site on Monday. Close to the shores of Lac Annecy, in the Haute Savoie region of France the area is popular with British tourists. They pitch their tents next to their small caravan, shown above. Saad al-Halli and his family arrive at the Solitaire du Lac camp site on Monday. Close to the shores of Lac Annecy, in the Haute Savoie region of France the area is popular with British tourists. They pitch their tents next to their small caravan, shown above.
A former RAF serviceman who was on holiday in the area, is cycling on this forest road where he is passed by another cyclist, Frenchman Sylvain Mollier. Just south of the village of Chevaline, the road winds up a steep hill through a thickly forested area.   A former RAF serviceman who was on holiday in the area, is cycling on this forest road where he is passed by another cyclist, Frenchman Sylvain Mollier. Just south of the village of Chevaline, the road winds up a steep hill through a thickly forested area.
Minutes later, the British cyclist comes across Mr al-Halli's BMW in this lay-by, its engine running. There he discovers the French cyclist with a fatal bullet wound to the head and seven-year-old Zainab al-Halli who had been badly beaten and had a gunshot wound to the shoulder. Minutes later, the British cyclist comes across Mr al-Halli's BMW in this lay-by, its engine running. There he discovers the French cyclist with a fatal bullet wound to the head and seven-year-old Zainab al-Halli who had been badly beaten and had a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
He puts Zainab in the recovery position, calls for assistance and breaks the driver's window to reach in and turn off the car's engine. Inside the vehicle, Saad al-Halli is slumped over the steering wheel. In the back are his dead wife and mother-in-law. Three of the four victims were shot in the middle of the head. He puts Zainab in the recovery position, calls for assistance and breaks the driver's window to reach in and turn off the car's engine. Inside the vehicle, Saad al-Halli is slumped over the steering wheel. In the back are his dead wife and mother-in-law. Three of the four victims were shot in the middle of the head.
Also inside the car is Zainab's four-year-old sister Zeena, who is hiding in the back of the car under the legs of the dead women. French police on the scene are told not to disturb the crime scene and do not open the doors for fear of shattering the glass which has bullet holes in it. Also inside the car is Zainab's four-year-old sister Zeena, who is hiding in the back of the car under the legs of the dead women. French police on the scene are told not to disturb the crime scene and do not open the doors for fear of shattering the glass which has bullet holes in it.
Eight hours later, police re-examine the car and pull Zeena, "terrorised and motionless", from the car. The search was made after investigators spoke to neighbours at the campsite who said there were two children. An earlier search using a thermal camera on a helicopter had not detected the child. Eight hours later, police re-examine the car and pull Zeena, "terrorised and motionless", from the car. The search was made after investigators spoke to neighbours at the campsite who said there were two children. An earlier search using a thermal camera on a helicopter had not detected the child.

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