Sep 8, 2012 / 10:00 am
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 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.
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-travelled.
El-Wailly added that she did not believe Zaid had anything to do with the killings.
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 talked to her 4-year-old sister, 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.
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