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Family feud eyed in grisly killings in French Alps

    Cyclists look at the trailer where the slain British family who were holidaying in a camp site of Saint Jorioz, near Annecy, France Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. A 4-year-old British girl hid for eight hours beneath the bodies of slain family members in the back of their car in a nearby forest, before she was discovered by French investigators who had been guarding the vehicle. One man and two women were shot to death, as was a French cyclist whose body was found nearby. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

ANNECY, France » French prosecutors focused Friday on a feud between brothers as they searched for a motive in the slayings of a British-Iraqi family vacationing in the French Alps.

Two young sisters survived the deaths of their parents and an older woman in the family car late Wednesday, as well as a French cyclist whose body was found nearby. The children, apparently the only witnesses to the shootings on an isolated Alpine road, were under police and consular protection Friday.

Prosecutor Eric Maillaud said British police have reported that the girls’ father had been feuding with his brother over money. A family friend said the father of the two men died recently — while public records showed the brother had left the victim’s small aeronautics design firm.

For the first time in nearly two days, police lifted a roadblock leading to the pitted, single-lane road running along a clear mountain stream. Broken grass and skid marks marred the small parking area where the family was found. A sign noted the area’s status as a national hunting and animal reserve, mapping out nearby trails.

The younger child, a 4-year-old, was found hiding beneath the skirts of her dead mother in the backseat of the car early Thursday eight hours after the crime scene was discovered.

Her sister was found bloodied and battered outside the vehicle and 15 bullet casings were scattered around the car.

The dead cyclist, officials say, had no links to the family killed in a wooded area up a mountain road from the village of Chevaline, near bucolic Lake Annecy.

The case has taken international ramifications with links tying the slain family to Britain, Iraq, Sweden and Spain.

Maillaud said the BMW station wagon in which three of the bodies were found was registered to a British man born in Baghdad in 1962. The man, identified as Saad al-Hilli, had lived in Britain since at least 2002, and his family had been in France since August.

Public records identified al-Hilli as a mechanical engineer and his LinkedIn page described him as an aerospace consultant.

British media, citing neighbors in the British village of Claygate, identified al-Hilli’s wife as Iqbal or Ikbal. There appeared to be some confusion over the girls’ names: U.K. media outlets gave various names and spellings for the 7-year-old and the 4-year-old.

Maillaud has declined to confirm any identities, pending results of DNA and fingerprint tests.

Sweden confirmed one of the victims was Swedish. French authorities found a Swedish passport that apparently belonged to the older woman, born in 1938, as well as an Iraqi passport.

Saad al-Hilli’s father died recently in Spain, family friend Mae Faisal El-wailly told The Associated Press. She described the family as wealthy and well-traveled.

Peter Ricketts, the British ambassador to France, said Friday that the elder girl was in serious but stable condition, and that both sisters would be looked after by British consular staff until family could go to France. Britain’s Foreign Office said diplomats had contacted relatives.

"The younger girl, who is not physically hurt but deeply, deeply shocked, has British consular staff with her — English-speaking, friendly faces to be with her alongside the French authorities, which I think is what everybody would expect," he told BBC television. The older girl is still badly hurt but I think stable. We will be with her as soon as it’s medically feasible for us to be so, so that there’s a friendly face around them, to support them."

According to public records, Saad al-Hilli’s brother Zaid is between 50 and 54 years old, and resigned last year from his brother’s company, Shtech Ltd., which specialized in computer-aided aeronautic design. His whereabouts were unclear, and police in the southern England county of Surrey have refused to comment beyond saying that they’re cooperating with French authorities.

Shtech had only modest assets, with a net worth of 8,331 pounds (roughly $13,000.)

The French cyclist was identified as Sylvain Mollier, 45, from nearby Grenoble. His wife had called police after Mollier failed to return from a ride.

Autopsies were planned on Friday at the nearby Grenoble Medical-Legal Institute.

Associated Press writer Raphael Satter contributed to this report from London.

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