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Alps slaying victims each shot twice in head; family home searched

Laurent Cipriani / AP

Flowers are seen Saturday at the crime scene where three people were shot to death in a British-registered car and a fourth was found nearby, in a forest near Chevaline in the French Alps.

Police from two countries on Saturday searched the Surrey, England, house of a British man shot dead in the French Alps with his wife and another woman.

The search came as French forensics experts who performed autopsies on the three British victims and a passing local bicyclist who was also shot dead determined all four had been shot twice directly in the head.

Iraqi-born aeronautics engineer al-Hilli, 50, his wife, Iqbal, 47, their two daughters and a 77-year-old woman thought to be Iqbal's mother, were holidaying in the Alps near Lake Annecy in the Haute Savoie when they were attacked Wednesday. The adults' bodies were found inside a British-registered maroon BMW at the end of a narrow track near the village of Chevaline.

The passing cyclist was identified as Sylvain Mollier, 45, of Grenoble.

Justin Tallis / AFP - Getty Images

British police officers stand Saturday outside a southeast England house believed to be the home of a family shot dead in their car in the French Alps.

The Hillis' daughters, Zainab, 7, and Zeena, 4, survived and are under police protection after the Wednesday shootings on a remote forest road near the village of Chevaline. Zainab was shot in the shoulder and beaten. Zeena was found cowering under the skirt of her dead mother, where she had remained undetected for eight hours after French gendarmes sealed off the scene.

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In Surrey, French police Col. Marc de Tarle, speaking outside police headquarters after his officers searched Saad al-Hilli's home nearby with a British forensics team, said the shooting investigation would be “long and complex,” the BBC reported.

Two relatives of the al-Hilli family have gone to France, accompanied by a British social worker and family-liaison officers from Surrey police, to comfort the Hillis’s two daughters, who survived the attack, the BBC reported.

The brother of a British man, murdered with his family in the French Alps, has denied reports of a family feud.  Police also revealed the four year old girl who survived the massacre saw nothing, because she'd hidden under her mother's skirts before the attack began. ITV's  Emma Murphy reports. 

In France, State Prosecutor Eric Maillaud told reporters, "The autopsies on the four people found dead found there were several bullets, but each one had received two bullets in the full head," the Guardian newspaper of London reported.

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"I cannot say if the killer or killers were professional; all I can say is there was an absolute determination to kill. To put two bullets in the head of each person shows that whoever was responsible for the terrible drama was determined to kill."

"We don't know what the elder girl was hit with and we cannot say in what order the victims were shot,” Maillaud said. “It seems the scene happened very rapidly."

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.

He added the postmortem and ballistic reports had pushed the idea of the victims being targeted by a lone gunman "further down the list of hypotheses."

Family feud behind massacre in French Alps?

Maillaud said a family feud over money was one of several motives being considered for the murders and the brother of Saad al-Hilli would be formally questioned.

"The brother says there was no dispute so let us remain cautious about that," he said.

The prosecutor said investigators had gleaned little from their "moving" chat on Friday with Zeena, who is in a psychiatric hospital in Grenoble, accompanied by a nurse and British embassy staff. Zeena was found cowering terrified under the skirt of her dead mother, where she had remained undetected for eight hours after French gendarmes sealed off the scene.

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Maillaud said members of the family had arrived on site, but declined to say who they were.

Police hope Zainab, who was still in an artificial coma in a Grenoble hospital, will be able to eventually provide more information.

"The two girls are doing as well as can be expected," Maillaud said.

This article includes reporting by Reuters.

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