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Brother denies family conflict behind massacre in French Alps

Horrific details emerge after four people were killed in the French Alps but the motive behind the murders of an Iraqi-born British citizen, his wife and her mother is still unknown. A passing cyclist was also killed.


Updated 7:15 p.m. ET: The brother of a British man shot dead in the French Alps with his wife and two other people came forward to authorities and denied any conflict in the family, The Associated Press reported Friday, as investigators probed whether a money dispute among the siblings motivated the bloodshed. 

Iraqi-born engineer Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, and her mother were found shot dead in a car on a remote road near Annecy Wednesday. A French cyclist was found dead nearby. Investigators were working to identify a fourth victim, an elderly Iraqi-born Swedish woman who was also in the car, The AP reported.  

The al-Hillis' 7-year-old daughter Zainab was found seriously injured, but alive, while their 4-year-old daughter Zeena was discovered Thursday after hiding beneath her dead mother’s legs for eight hours.

Three of the dead were shot in the forehead with a semi-automatic weapon, leading to speculation that the killings were a professional hit.

 Girl, 4, hid for eight hours in car filled with corpses after shootings in France

On Friday, prosecutor Eric Maillaud told French news agency AFP that they were looking into "credible information" from British police about a family argument.

Salvatore Di Nolfi / EPA

Police escort the car in which three members of a British family were shot dead near Chevaline, France.

"It seems that there was a dispute between the two brothers about money … The brother will have to be questioned at length. Every lead will be meticulously followed,” he said.

On Friday, after learning of authorities' suspicion about a possible family feud, Zaid al-Hilli went to British police and told them, "I have no conflict with my brother," according to Eric Maillaud, a prosecutor in nearby Annecy.

"This brother came forward spontaneously to investigators, first to ask simply about the state of his brother because he heard through British media that his brother was dead," Maillaud said, according to the AP.

But a family friend produced a letter written by Saad that alluded to an inheritance dispute with Zaid in the wake of their father's recent death, the report said.

In an effort to avoid tipping off the perpetrator or perpetrators, French authorities released only a handful of clues about the investigation.

The U.K.'s Sky News said the prosecutor’s office had stressed the family dispute was just one of a number of possible scenarios being investigated by the authorities.

Al-Hilli was born in Baghdad in 1962, but had lived in Britain since at least 2002. Public records identified him as a mechanical engineer and his LinkedIn page described him as an aerospace consultant.

Detectives in France are facing criticism as to why the sole survivor in a brutal quadruple homicide in an Alpine town was not discovered alive until eight hours after the shooting. ITN's Damon Green.

A British cyclist, reportedly a former member of Britain’s Royal Air Force, was the first on the scene of the shootings at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, when he came upon al-Hilli’s BMW with its engine running. The three dead al-Hilli family members were inside the car with the French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, 40, lying dead outside.

Mollier, who had no ties to the family, had passed the British cyclist on the road earlier. The British man put the seven-year-old girl in the recovery position and called emergency services. He has been credited with saving her life.

"He had a strong command of his nerves. We must welcome his action and congratulate him," Maillaud said Wednesday.

ITV News reported that autopsies would be carried out on the dead Friday as the hunt for clues continues.

It is also hoped the children will have information useful to the investigators.

Justin Tallis / AFP - Getty Images

A police officer stands in the front a house in Claygate, south-east England, on Thursday which is believed to be where the al-Hilli family lived.

British Ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, told ITV News Friday that they were trying to help the children involved in what he described as an “awful and heart-rending story."

"What we can do is help these poor little girls with some English-speaking, friendly consular people to be with them," he said.

Read more stories from the U.K.'s ITV News

Ricketts said the younger child, who was not physically hurt, was "deeply traumatized."

U.K. officials had not been able to visit her older sister for medical reasons, he said, but added she was in a stable condition. On Thursday, French officials said her injuries were no longer life-threatening.

ITV News is NBC's U.K. partner. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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