Family feud part of French Alps murder investigation

British authorities passed along the information to their French counterparts, looking into the deaths of four people Wednesday.

Robert Pratta/REUTERS
French gendarmes block access to a road to La Combe d'Ire in Chevaline near Annecy, southeastern France, September 7, 2012. Two girls, apparently on a camping holiday from Britain with their parents, were under police protection in France on Thursday after three adults thought to be their mother, father and grandmother, were shot dead in a car on a road in the Alps.

Investigators trying to solve a gruesome multiple murder in the French Alps are looking into a British police tip-off that the man shot dead in his car on Wednesday along with two women was involved in a financial feud with his brother.

Police sources have identified the dead car driver as Saad al-Hilli, an Iraqi-born Briton, and are working on the theory that he was holidaying in the picturesque Annecy region with his wife and two daughters and their grandmother.

Two girls, whose ages of around 8 and 4 match the account that neighbors in Britain give of Hilli's family, survived and are under police protection in hospital. A local cyclist who was passing along the forest road near the village of Chevaline was also shot dead.

"We received information from the British authorities about a money dispute between two brothers of this family," state prosecutor Eric Maillaud told Reuters on Friday. "It's an interesting line of investigation, but one among many."

He said Hilli's brother had gone to see British police, but that he did not know what he had said, and that French police would travel to London.

Maillaud also said investigators had gleaned little from a "moving" chat on Friday with the 4-year-old, who was being looked after at a psychiatric hospital in Grenoble after spending eight hours hiding under bodies in the car, apparently too scared to move, while police kept it sealed to await a forensics team.

The older girl, believed to be her sister, was badly beaten and was due to undergo a second operation in Grenoble for severe head injuries.

 FRIENDLY AND NORMAL

Shocked neighbors of Hilli in rural Surrey, south of London, described the family as friendly and normal.

Hilli was a mechanical engineer who helped to design the kitchen of the European Airbus aircraft, according to Julian Stedman, his accountant since 2004.

Hilli, whose wife Ikbal had been training as a dentist, had set up his own one-man company specializing in computer-aided design with clients such as Airbus, and mostly worked from his house in Claygate, said Stedman.

"We are all in shock here," said Fiona Davis, a neighbor of the family in the village of Claygate whose son goes to the same school as Hilli's elder daughter.

"Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors, but it didn't seem like a family that would have enemies."

Maillaud said post-mortems would be carried out on Friday on the four dead. A team of 11 forensics experts including ballistics and profiling specialists have been sent in from near Paris, national police officer Jacques Hebrard told BFM TV.

The dead French cyclist has been identified as a local man, Sylvain Mollier, who was out on a bike ride in the area.

Police reopened the crime scene area after about 36 hours of forensic work, giving journalists access to the exact spot where the murder happened, a place where the road ends at a barrier and then turns into a track for walkers and cyclists.

Deep ruts in a bank of earth looked as though they might have been made by the back wheels of a car whose driver was trying to make a hurried U-turn and drive away.

Maillaud was due to hold a news conference at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT). (Reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Annecy and Alessandra Rizzo in Claygate; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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