British authorities search home of couple slain in Alps

Authorities seek motive in deaths of 4 adults in car

Top, police worked at Saad al-Hilli’s home in Britain to investigate the slayings of four people in the French Alps.
Photos by Steve Parsons/Associated Press
Top, police worked at Saad al-Hilli’s home in Britain to investigate the slayings of four people in the French Alps.

LONDON — French and British police searched the home in the United Kingdom of a British-Iraqi couple slain while vacationing in the French Alps, as it emerged Saturday that all four people killed in the attack were shot twice in the head. Meanwhile, relatives arrived in France to help care for the couple’s two surviving daughters, one of whom was severely wounded.

Questions remained about potential motive for the killings as well as the identity of one victim, an older woman found dead in the couple’s bullet-riddled BMW. Police have said they are investigating tips of a financial dispute between the slain husband and his brother, but stress they were following all leads. The brother has denied any dispute.

The identity of the dead couple — mechanical design engineer Saad al Hilli and his wife, Ikbal — was based partly on the word of their 4-year-old daughter Zeena, who survived unhurt by hiding under her mother’s skirt as some 25 automatic-handgun rounds were fired at the family car.


Her older sister, 7-year-old Zaina, was badly wounded in the attack and lies in a medically-induced coma. Aside from the elderly woman shot to death in the car, French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, whom authorities suspect was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, was also killed in the shooting rampage on Wednesday.

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French prosecutor Eric Maillaud, based in Annecy near the site of the killing, told a press conference there Saturday that each of the victims was shot twice in the head — one more time than previously stated — in addition to an undisclosed additional number of times elsewhere.

Autopsies on the bodies were completed late Friday, Maillaud said.

He remained tight-lipped during the news conference, saying he was ‘‘at the limits’’ of what he could publicly disclose. But he confirmed that France has asked Italy and Switzerland to assist in the search for whoever is responsible for the shootings, which took place just a short drive from the borders of both countries.

French investigators arrived in Britain on Friday night, and police took pictures on Saturday of the Hilli home in the village of Claygate, a London suburb in Surrey County. Some officers entered the house in protective suits, while others carried boxes with equipment and evidence bags into an investigation tent set up outside.


Authorities in Britain, too, gave few details. The French police in Surrey spoke only to praise cooperation with their UK counterparts in what they described as a long and complex inquiry. Surrey’s police force stressed that the investigation is French-led and that the emphasis now is on the victims of the tragedy.

Authorities have been reluctant to discuss what prompted the killings, but investigators are looking into a possible family dispute over money.

After learning about media reports that they may have been fighting over money, Saad Hilli’s brother Zaid came forward to British police Friday and denied any conflict in the family, French prosecutors said.

But Mae Faisal El-Wailly, a childhood friend of the brothers, made available a letter written to her by Saad last year that alluded to a possible inheritance dispute. She said the brothers’ father had died recently, and she described the family as wealthy.

But Wailly added that she did not believe Zaid had anything to do with the killings.


‘‘Zaid and I do not communicate any more as he is another control freak and tried a lot of underhanded things even when my father was alive,’’ Saad wrote. The letter was dated Sept. 16, 2011.

‘‘He tried to take control of father’s assets and demanded control,’’ the letter says. “ . . . It is a long story and now I have just had to wipe him out of my life. Sad but I need to concentrate now on my wife and two lovely girls.’’