Four people shot dead in the French Alps were killed with the same gun, police say, fuelling speculation they were targeted by a contract killer.
French investigators revealed each person was shot twice in the head in a secluded car park in the Combe d’Ire forest, near Chevaline.
Saad al-Hilli, 50, from Surrey, was killed in during the family car during a holiday, alongside his dentist wife Iqbal in a remote spot close to Lake Annecy.
Mrs al-Hilli’s mother also died in the shooting along with Sylvain Mollier, 45, a French cyclist who apparently stumbled across the shooting on Wednesday.
The couple’s seven-year-old daughter, Zainab al-Hilli, was shot and so brutally beaten during the attack that doctors placed her in a medically-induced coma.
She has since regained consciousness and was able to hold a brief discussion with officers in France, sources close to the investigation have said.
Zainab is seen as a key witness to the horrific attack that left her parents and grandmother dead.
Her younger sister Zeena, four, who survived by cowering behind her mother, has flown back to Britain with carers.
Detailed ballistic analysis of 25 spent cartridges found at the scene revealed they all came from a 7.65mm automatic pistol, according to local reports.
French police are also examining two mobile phones found in the al-Hilli’s bullet-ridden BMW, just a few miles from Le Solitaire du Lac, a campsite in Saint-Jorioz where they were staying.
Meanwhile, witnesses have described seeing a green four-wheel-drive vehicle in the area at the time of the killings, and possibly a motorbike.
One man, thought to be one of the last people to see the family alive, told reporters the family had arrived at the isolated car park at least an hour before the murders.
Laurent Fillion-Robin, 38, said there was no sign of any vehicle following the group when he watched the red British-registered BMW drive past between 2.30pm and 3pm. He heard no gun shots.
While she is unable to shed much light on the murders, French police believe Zainab could provide them with crucial details to help piece together what happened.
A source said: “They have been able to speak to her but this was just an initial meeting. They could not go into any detail and the child was very tired. It was not permitted for the discussion to go any further.”
Police must now wait for medics to give them the green light to engage the girl in a more lengthy discussion when she is expected to be asked about her memories of the attack.
Zeena returned to Britain after two relatives, understood to be an aunt and uncle, flew out to France. She is under the care of the authorities and social services.
It is as yet unclear who will take custody of the two orphaned children.
The spotlight in the criminal investigation has turned on the al-Hilli family home in the affluent village of Claygate in Surrey after police identified items of concern and called in a bomb disposal squad from the Royal Logistic Corps.
Neighbouring properties were evacuated as experts examined the mock-Tudor house, focusing on a shed at the bottom of the garden. But officers later said that the unidentified items were not hazardous.
Surrey Police last night said officers were using power tools to try to open a safe in the al-Hilli home.
Speculation about possible motives for the murder is rife.
One theory is that shots could have been fired during a bungled armed robbery, with Mr Mollier being a witness to the crime. Another is that the killing was a pre-planned attack by professional hitmen.
Some media reports have suggested that Mr al-Hilli, an engineer who left Saddam Hussein’s Iraq several years ago, was known to the security services and was put under surveillance by Metropolitan Police Special Branch during the second Gulf war.
A spokesman said Scotland Yard could not comment but it is understood there is no link between the deaths and any national security issues.
Police are now examining at all aspects of Mr al-Hilli’s life to try to find a motive for the murders, looking at both personal and professional links.
Investigators have disclosed that his brother, Zaid Hilli, approached UK police to deny any feud with his sibling over an inheritance.
They are also likely to consider Mr al-Hilli’s employment as a contractor for a satellite technology company in Surrey.