The driver, named by the French media as Iraqi-born British national Saad al-Hilli, 50, a woman, and an older woman sitting in the back of the vehicle received bullet wounds to the middle of the head, public prosecutor Eric Maillaud confirmed at a press conference.

Four people were killed in the incident. In addition to the three people in the car – believed to be a mother, father and grandmother – a passing cyclist was killed, presumably for disturbing the attack.

Two young girls, believed to be the family’s daughters, survived the shooting.

The elder girl, aged 7, had been beaten and left for dead in the road.

Prosecutor Maillaud said of the girl: “She was beaten very badly, mainly to the head and had been shot in the shoulder. She was hit extremely violently.”

She is now in a medically induced coma, The Mirror reported.

The younger girl, aged 4, was found hiding beneath the bodies in the car. She did not appear to be injured, according to reports.

Maillaud dismissed suggestions that the gunshots to the head were a mark of a professional hit.

“I do not want to invent or imagine, my role is to discover what happened,” he said.

But he added that the incident was “an act of gross savagery”.