Europe

French Cern scientist goes on trial for 'al-Qaeda plot'

A court drawing of Adlene Hicheur, 29 March 2012
Image caption Emails sent by Adlene Hicheur apparently discussed targets

A nuclear scientist at the Cern laboratory has gone on trial in France accused of plotting terrorist attacks.

Adlene Hicheur has been in custody since his arrest two-and-a-half years ago, after police intercepted his emails to an alleged contact in Al-Qaeda.

Court documents say the emails proposed targets and suggested Mr Hicheur was willing to be part of an active unit.

His lawyers say he only expressed views online and he was never part of a plot.

The French domestic intelligence service, DCRI, looked at 35 emails sent between Hicheur and an alleged contact in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

He had been under surveillance for 18 months as investigators monitored the account of Algerian Mustapha Debchi, alleged to be a member of AQIM.

Investigators say the emails, in which the men use pseudonyms, discuss possible "military and political targets to punish governments" in Europe and in particular France.

But Mr Hicheur, who was born in Algeria, never said he would actually carry out an attack.

Shadow of Merah shootings

Image caption Adlene Hicheur's family have complained his emails were "misinterpreted"

They were sent while Mr Hicheur was at home from his work at the Cern particle accelerator, suffering from a herniated disc. During this illness he is said to have consulted numerous Islamist websites.

His supporters say he was only expressing strong views and was not planning attacks.

At the start of the trial Mr Hicheur criticised the case against him. "I see a lot of confusion and inaccuracies," Agence France-Presse reported.

"It would be too tedious to revisit each of them (but) the assertions about me... are inaccurate, are subject to debate."

His brother, Halim, complained that the emails had been interpreted in a "biased way".

"This dossier was tampered with from the beginning by the DCRI. Some people wanted to raise the spectre of the terrorism threat by the Algerian, Muslim nuclear physicist, etc."

The trial comes a week after French special forces shot dead Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in Toulouse and Montauban.

Security issues have since dominated the French presidential election campaign, with President Nicolas Sarkozy proposing that anyone regularly visiting extremist websites should be prosecuted. The first round of voting takes place next month.

"The events of Toulouse and Montauban don't appear to create the most favourable conditions for the trial of Adlene Hicheur," said his lawyer Patrick Baudouin.

"We're really going to have to insist that there's no conflation."

Mr Baudouin told journalists that unlike Merah his client had no weapons in his possession, and no history of violence.

More on this story