Former CERN nuclear scientist faces terror trial in France
French-Algerian Adlene Hicheur accused of conspiring to organise attacks with north African wing of al-Qaida
A former nuclear scientist at Switzerland’s Cern laboratory, famous for its Hadron collider that aims to recreate the conditions of the big bang, has gone on trial for allegedly plotting terror attacks in France.
Adlene Hicheur, 35, who is French-Algerian, is accused of conspiring to organise attacks with the north African wing of al-Qaida. His lawyers argue that he only sent some angry emails, never took steps to gather weapons or commit an attack, and there was no proof of any concrete terrorist intentions.
Hicheur, who has been on remand for two and a half years, told the court the investigation had been dishonest, and full of confusions and imprecision.
Hicheur was arrested in October 2009 at his parents’ home in south-east France, hours before he was to take a flight to Algeria to work on a property purchase, his defence team said. A postdoctoral researcher based at a university in Lausanne, he had been on contract at the Cern laboratory for nuclear research, studying big bang theory and the origins of the universe.
French intelligence services were reportedly alerted to him after a statement from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was sent to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Elysée Palace in early 2008. Police then intercepted his emails.
While on sick leave Hicheur had allegedly railed in various emails about the need to punish western governments for anti-Muslim wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an order by judges sending the case to trial.
French investigators studied about 35 emails between Hicheur and an alleged contact in AQIM. Some cited possible targets, including a French military barracks in the Alps.
Investigators have said Hicheur admitted under police questioning that he believed a contact in the email correspondence, a man in Algeria named Mustapha Debchi, was part of AQIM. A police search of Hicheur’s computer turned up a file folder titled “tempo AQMI”, using the group’s French-language acronym.
Magistrates investigating the case said the email exchanges crossed the line of simple debate or ideas into the sphere of terrorist violence.
Debchi allegedly sought to persuade Hicheur to carry out a suicide bombing, which he refused, responding that it was against Islam and he had no intention of dying prematurely, the court documents showed. In one email, Debchi allegedly asked Hicheur: “Don’t beat around the bush: are you prepared to work in a unit becoming active in France?”
The defence team contest Debchi’s identity and deny there is any evidence of concrete intention to commit an attack.
A week after police in Toulouse shot dead the self-proclaimed jihadist Mohamed Merah for killing seven people in a series of gun attacks on soldiers and schoolchildren, Hicheur’s trial over “criminal association with a view to plotting terrorist attacks” has made headlines in France.
His defence team has warned against parallels with the Merah case, which they say is very different.”I think that there should be no confusion between Mohamed Merah and Adlene Hicheur,” Hicheur’s lawyer, Patrick Baudouin, said in a pre-trial briefing, describing Merah as a “crazy, dangerous criminal”, with an arsenal of weapons who had received arms training in Pakistan.
“For Adlene Hicheur, there is nothing like that. He has a family, friends, working colleagues, a stable entourage. He has never been in Afghanistan nor in any other such country.”
[Image via Julian Herzog, Creative Commons licensed]