French Alps Killings: Investigation Showcases European Police Cooperation (+Video)

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The investigation of the murder of four people in the French Alps has triggered a frenzy of media coverage jumping from one theory to another. But at another level, the cross-border nature of the case it has already drawn in enforcement agencies from at least three countries has demonstrated the increasing sophistication of European cooperation in law-enforcement matters at a time when other elements of European integration are in crisis.

A French judge and prosecutor were due to arrive in Britain Thursday. A small team of French investigators is already there, helping to find out what led to the shootings a week ago of an Iraqi- born British engineer Saad al-Hilli, his British wife, her Swedish- Iraqi mother, and a local French cyclist.

This aspect of the [European] project is racing forward and is probably one of the largest areas of cooperation in European decisionmaking when it comes to legal matters, says Dermot Walsh of the University of Limerick, Ireland, an expert in European criminal law and procedure. Cooperation in law enforcement is moving very fast.

Professor Walsh stresses that, contrary to the way the investigation was being portrayed in some reports, the French investigators in the UK were not conducting searches of the Hilli home. Rather, they were simply accompanying British police who were carrying out the searches.

But, he adds: Generally speaking, having officers operating on the ground in a foreign jurisdiction is something that is fairly new and has developed over the past 10 years, although they have not got to the point where they can, for example, exercise coercive powers, in other words, powers involving force or the threat of force.

The two young daughters of Mr. Hilli and his wife, Ikbal, survived. Police have spoken briefly to the elder girl, age seven, since she came out of a medically induced coma this week, but a more in-depth talk will have to wait until her doctor gives the OK.

Forty French officers are working on the case, with investigators focusing on three specific areas: Hilli's work, his family, and his native Iraq. The latter has been at the center of considerable attention. The case's French prosecutor, Eric Maillaud, said during a press conference Wednesday a "specialized" team was tasked with examining Hilli's links to the country.

The family is still believed to have been on a camping holiday, with speculation about the murders ranging from suggestions that it was a race-hate crime to a bungled robbery. …