A British family murdered during a holiday in France may have been the victims of a contract killing triggered by a family feud, investigators believe.
Saad al-Hilli (50), his wife Iqbal (47) and Mrs Hilli's 77-year-old mother were all shot dead in a ruthlessly efficient execution-style killing inside their family car. A French cyclist who was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" was also murdered.
The al-Hillis' seven-year-old daughter Zainab, who was battered and shot, and her four-year-old sister Zeena, who escaped the killers by hiding in a passenger footwell, were both under armed guard in separate hospitals last night for fear that the killers would return for the only remaining witnesses to the slaughter.
Police sources in France said that the "professional" nature of the murders, with three of the victims shot in the centre of the forehead, pointed to a contract killing, with a "family drama" one of the possible motives.
Before he set off on holiday, Iraqi-born Mr al-Hilli, an engineer, had confided to neighbours in Claygate, Surrey, that something was troubling him.
Jack Saltman (67) said he had contacted the police to tell them about Mr al-Hilli's fears.
He said: "He did say something to me, which gave me cause to worry a little bit. Before he left, he came round and saw me and asked if I would keep an eye on his house.
"I have told the police and if it is relevant they will have it and if it is not relevant then no one will ever know."
Mr Saltman refused to elaborate further, but said Mr al-Hilli's fears were "definitely not political".
Another family friend said there had been "inheritance issues" within the family.
Zainab al-Hilli, a pupil at Claygate Primary School, was said to be "stable" in an induced coma in hospital in Grenoble after operations on her fractured skull and a gunshot wound to her shoulder.
Her younger sister Zeena was being looked after in a psychiatric hospital after spending almost eight hours hiding in the car with the bodies of her parents and grandmother.
Eric Maillaud, the senior prosecutor on the case, said the four-year-old had not been able to tell the difference between the "good guys and the bad guys" and, after escaping the killers, hid beneath the skirt of one of the dead women when police arrived to take control of the scene.
It was only when a holidaymaker at the Solitaire du Lac campsite by Lake Annecy, where the family had been staying in their caravan since Monday, told police that the family had two children that they opened the locked doors of the car and found Zeena.
Mr Maillaud said: "She was totally immobile, hidden in the vehicle behind the front passenger seat underneath the legs of one of the dead women, under her skirts and a large pile of travel bags, totally invisible and mute."
He said she broke into a smile when she was found, and said: "There was a noise and I was scared," then began asking where her family were.
Mr Maillaud said a helicopter with a thermal imaging camera, which had flown over the murder scene looking for survivors or killers, had failed to spot the little girl because the remaining body heat of the other victims had masked her own.
Mr al-Hilli, who was born in Baghdad, came to Britain with his parents in the 1970s to escape persecution from Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
They lived in Pimlico, west London, where Mr al-Hilli's father Kadhim, also an engineer, set up his own factory.
The family moved to a large mock tudor house in Claygate in 1984, which became Mr al-Hilli's own family home when he married his wife, a dentist, and had children.
His brother Zaid, whose family live in nearby Kingston upon Thames, was unavailable for comment but a relation declined to discuss the deaths. (© Daily Telegraph, London)