LONDON – French and British police on Saturday were preparing to search the U.K. home of a British-Iraqi family brutally slain while vacationing in the French Alps, as investigators searching for a motive looked into a possible dispute between siblings.
The brother of the man shot dead with his wife and two other people came forward to British police on Friday and denied any conflict in the family, French prosecutors say.
Authorities have identified the dead as mechanical design engineer Saad al Hilli and his wife, Ikbal, 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.
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 grandmother, but that has not been confirmed by authorities.
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, which is expected to be a 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.
Eric Maillaud, the prosecutor in Annecy near the site of the killing, 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.
“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 other 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.
Authorities have questioned her 4-year-old sister Zeena, but Maillaud said the girl provided no other details that might advance the investigation.
Keaten reported from Annecy, France. Associated Press writer Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.