Although authorities in France believe a family dispute about money might have led to the killing of four people and the shooting of a 7-year-old girl in the French Alps, a French prosecutor said the brother of one of the victims has denied any conflict with him over "financial matters."
Investigators today questioned the brother of 50-year-old Saad al-Hilli, who was found gunned down in a car near Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie, France, Wednesday. His wife, Iqbal, and a woman believed to be her mother were also found shot dead, as was a cyclist who happened upon the bloody scene.
"He [al-Hilli's brother] turned up again this morning and he said 'No, I don't have a conflict with my brother,'" prosecutor Eric Maillaud said at a news conference today in Annecy, France.
French investigators had come to the United Kingdom to speak with Al-Hilli's brother, who also spoke with British police Thursday after learning of the deaths through the media, Maillaud said. British police are now directly involved in the investigation.
The BBC reported today that tension with al-Hilli's brother, whom officials have not named, was brewing over two properties in Spain and suburban London. The house in Surrey, England, which had apparently been in their mother's name, was left to Saad.
Meanwhile, Al-Hilli's daughter Zainab, 7, is in a medically induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital after being shot in the head three times and badly beaten. The couple's daughter Zeena, 4, was found hiding underneath her mother's corpse inside the backseat of the family's BMW by a British cyclist.
Zeena has now also spoken to police about the attack, Maillaud said. The girl told investigators that she did not see anything because she "dived under her mother's legs" when the the first shots rang out, he added.
Maillaud told AFP news agency earlier today that officials believed a dispute between the two brothers led to the massacre in which all victims were shot in the head and about 25 bullets were fired.
"It seems that there was a dispute between the two brothers about money," prosecutor Eric Maillaud said earlier today. "This seems to be credible information coming from the British police. The brother will have to be questioned at length. Every lead will be meticulously followed."
The fourth victim was a cyclist identified by French media as Sylvain Mollier, a father of three from Ugine en Savoie, who also suffered gunshot wounds and was found dead close to the car.
Zeena was questioned by investigators Thursday night, but was unable to provide further help, Maillaud, the public prosecutor for Annecy, told AFP. Both girls are under police protection in the hospital.
"We have to be extremely careful about the declarations of a traumatized little girl," Maillaud said.
Saad al-Hilli was reportedly a resident of Claygate in the London-suburb of Surrey and the secretary of a Wiltshire-based aerial photography company, AMS 1087. The Surrey police are working with French authorities to assist the investigation.
Police believe the shooter used an automatic pistol, which are banned in France.
"This is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the French police and we are unable to confirm any details about the incident," Surrey police said in a statement.
The British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, said in Annecy, "Clearly, this is a terrible, tragic event, a brutal murder, but also a traumatic experience for these two young girls," the BBC reported.
Speaking at a news conference in Annecy Thursday afternoon, prosecutor Maillaud said, "We usually see this kind of scene in a movie rather than real life," adding that the killer did not shoot haphazardly, but "targeted his victims."
The al-Hilli family is believed to have been coming to the end of their holiday, having arrived in France at the end of August.
"This is not your typical incident," a spokesman for the British Foreign Office told ABC News. "With multiple killings, gathering evidence is much more difficult."
The British cyclist who came upon the scene, who is an ex-RAF office, is the main witness. He had been passed by another cyclist on the climb that leads to the parking lot where the shooting took place.
Police said that he found the BMW with the engine still running, and saw Zainab walking near the car, about to faint. He then discovered the other cyclist, who had passed him earlier, dead on the road.
After alerting firefighters at about 5 p.m., the witness broke the driver's window and saw the bodies inside, one of which covered little Zeena. The cyclist then placed Zainab in recovery position, the BBC reported, adding that police say he effectively saved her life.
Authorities removed her at around midnight, and she is being treated by psychiatrists.
Zainab is in critical condition in the hospital in Grenoble with a fractured skull.
Chevaline Mayor Didier Berthollet told the BBC News that most local people had already been questioned by police, describing the situation as "surreal."
"Things are very precious," Barthollet said, adding that the deaths reminded him of a similar death of another family seven years ago not too far away.