A puzzling murder mystery in the French Alps has taken on international significance as more details about the slain members of a British-Iraqi family are uncovered.
It all began on Wednesday, when a passing cyclist discovered a car -- engine still running -- on the side of the road in eastern France, near the tourist-friendly area surrounding Lake Annecy. Inside the car were three dead people: a man, his wife, and an elderly woman. There was also a little girl in the car who survived and hid beneath her mother's legs for eight hours until she was discovered by authorities.
The girl's older sister was found shot and beaten -- but alive -- outside the car. Nearby was one more victim, shot dead on the side of the road. He was a passing cyclist, apparently unconnected to the family in the car.
Today, both of the surviving girls are at a hospital and in police custody. The search for the perpetrator(s) of violence is ongoing.
"I do not call this the work of [a] professional," said public prosecutor Eric Maillaud at a news conference following the incident. "I call it an act of enormous savagery."
Now that the investigation is unfolding, more specific details are becoming clear. The male victim who owned the car is named Saad al-Hilli, according to his neighbors in England. The 50-year-old was born in Iraq, but had become a well-established member of his community in picturesque town of Claygate, in Surrey. His wife was named Iqbal. His elder daughter Zainab is 7, and the younger, Zeena, is 4.
The older woman in the car is presumed to be the mother of Iqbal, although Zeena's statements suggest that the children were not very familiar with their supposed grandmother.
CBC News reported that the older woman was found with a Swedish passport, and that al-Hilli's father had recently passed away in Spain. Overall, it seems, the family was fairly well-off and extremely well-traveled.
Zeena's statements have reportedly not been useful to police; she was in shock and may have been hiding through much of the violence. Zainab remains in a coma; she is expected to recover.
"She is a key witness," said Maillaud. "We hope that she will be able to tell us what she went through, provide us with descriptions of the murderer or murderers."
For now, new reports are emerging by the minute that continue to shed more light on this mysterious tragedy.
It has emerged that Saad Al-Hilli was a contractor with Surrey Satellite Technology, according to a statement from the company CEO Matt Perkins.
"I am deeply shocked and saddened to confirm that one of SSTL's long-term contractors, Saad Al-Hilli, has been formally identified as one of the victims of the shootings which occurred in the French Alps," it said.
"Saad worked at SSTL as a Mechanical Design Engineer from November 2010. Saad's colleagues will remember him as an experienced and committed engineer who worked as part of a tightly knit team. He was a personal friend to many of our staff here."
It also appears that Saad al-Hilli owned an aeronautics company called Shtech Ltd., at least until last year. CBC News reports Saad's brother Zaid is on record as having worked briefly for Saad, but that he resigned in 2011.
Prosecutor Maillaud said that the two siblings may have been fighting over an inheritance, sparking suspicion that this murder was somehow related to a bitter family feud.
But upon hearing this news, the victim's brother presented himself to authorities and denied the rumor, saying there were no family disputes over financial matters.
In a press conference on Friday, Maillaud said that investigations are still underway, and both French and British authorities are working on the case. He did not seem concerned with the family's connections to Sweden, Spain or Iraq.
"It's a Franco-British investigation," he said.
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