French gendarmes block access to a road to La Combe d'Ire in Chevaline
French gendarmes block access to a road to La Combe d'Ire in Chevaline (Reuters)

The brother of Saad al-Hilli, the British-Iraqi father who was shot dead along with his wife and mother-in-law in the French Alps, has denied there was a feud over money going on between the two, according to French prosecutor Eric Maillaud.

"I have no conflict, no feud with my brother," the brother, who has not been named, reportedly told British police. He added that he had heard about the deaths on television.

Maillaud confirmed the identities of the British family members whose bodies were found in a country lane in a popular beauty spot in southeast France. The information had come from four-year-old Zaina, who was found hidden beneath her mother's legs where she had stayed for eight hours.

"She did not see anything," the prosecutor said. "The little girl was terrorised. She rushed under her mother's legs. She heard, but she didn't see anything."

He said the girl was likely to return to Britain soon.

The body of a fourth victim - a French cyclist - was found near the family car.

Earlier reports suggested there was a family dispute between the two brothers about money. "This seems to be credible information coming from British police," Maillaud originally told AFP.

A British cyclist who found the bodies reported seeing a green 4x4 car and a motorbike racing towards the murder scene before he arrived.

However, sources in the area suggested that French investigators were hunting a black-shirted driver of a white 4x4 Peugeot which was seen speeding away from the scene.

One witness told Sky News: "It was a white car, a small one with a man inside and I think he was alone. Brown hair, I believe.

"No one takes that turn that fast because there is no visibility. You have to slow down and that was really too fast."

According to Maillaud those who carried out the attack were "not scared to kill".

About 25 bullet casings were found in and around the car.

"We really don't know in what order the deaths took place," he said, adding that the nearest CCTV camera is 30km away from the scene.

The prosecutor told Dauphiné Libéré newspaper: "This case looks more and more like an ambush even if we are not sure this is the work of a professional."