LONDON, UK – A nuclear physicist at the CERN laboratory has gone on trial in France on charges of plotting terrorist attacks.
Adlene Hicheur, who previously worked as a researcher at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, was arrested in October 2009 in south-eastern France after police intercepted email messages he wrote to an alleged contact in Al Qaeda’s North African franchise, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).
The 35-year-old Algerian-born scientist had been under surveillance for a year and a half, according to the BBC.
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Court documents say the pseudonymous emails discussed possible “military and political targets to punish governments” in Europe, including a French military barracks in the Alps, and suggested Hicheur was willing to be part of an active terrorist unit.
His lawyers claim he was simply expressing strong views online, and never actually said he would carry out a terrorist attack.
At the start of the trial Thursday, Hicheur said the emails were sent while he was on sick leave from his work at CERN and taking pain medication after suffering from a herniated disc, according to the Agence France Presse.
He claimed the messages were the result of his “physical and psychological state,” and denounced the case against him:
“I see a lot of confusion and inaccuracies,” he told the court. “It would be too tedious to revisit each of them (but) the assertions against me… are inaccurate, are subject to debate.”
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Hicheur’s trial opened on the same day as Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in a series of execution-style shootings in southern France, was buried in a cemetery outside the city of Toulouse.
Hicheurs’s brother Halim lamented that in the wake of the Merah killings “some people wanted to raise the specter of the terrorism threat by the Algerian, Muslim nuclear physicist – all the key words you can name,” according to the Associated Press.
With security issues dominating France’s presidential election campaign and the first round of voting set to take place next month, Hicheur’s defenders fear he may be unfairly linked to Merah.
“The events of Toulouse and Motauban don’t appear to create the most favorable conditions for the trial of Adene Hitcheur,” his lawyer, Patrick Baudouin told journalists.
“We’re really going to have to insist that there’s no conflation."
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