A Franco-Algerian nuclear scientist goes on trial Thursday for allegedly plotting terror attacks in France, where an Islamist’s killing spree has already overshadowed the presidential campaign.
A week after police shot dead Franco-Algerian Mohamed Merah for killing seven people in and around Toulouse, Adlene Hicheur goes on trial charged with criminal association as part of a terrorist enterprise.
French police arrested Hicheur, a researcher studying the universe’s birth -- the Big Bang -- at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in October 2009 after intercepting emails he wrote.
Following his arrest at his parents’ home near CERN, which lies on the Franco-Swiss border northwest of Geneva, police discovered a trove of al-Qaeda and Islamic militant literature.
France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency’s suspicions were raised following a statement from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that was sent to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Elysee Palace in early 2008.
Police carried out surveillance on several email accounts including Hicheur’s and his exchanges with Mustapha Debchi, an alleged AQIM representative living in Algeria.
On March 1, 2009, Hicheur wrote an email to Debchi saying he would “propose... possible objectives in Europe and particularly in France.”
On March 10, he continued: “Concerning the matter of objectives, they differ depending on the different results sought after the hits. For example: if it’s about punishing the state because of its military activities in Muslim countries -- Afghanistan -- then it should be a purely military objective. For example: the air base at Karan Jefrier near Annecy in France. This base trains troops and sends them to Afghanistan.”
Hicheur was referring to a French military base at Cran-Gevrier, close to CERN.
In June 2009, Debchi asked Hicheur: “Don’t beat around the bush: are you prepared to work in a unit becoming active in France?”
Hicheur replied on June 6: “Concerning your proposal, the answer is of course YES but there are a few observations: ...if your proposal relates to a precise strategy -- such as working in the heart of the main enemy’s house and emptying its blood of strength -- then I should revise the plan that I’ve prepared.”
Magistrates investigating the case said the exchanges “crossed the line of simple debate of political or religious ideas to enter the sphere of terrorist violence.”
They say the accused “knowingly agreed with Mustapha Debchi to set up an operational cell ready to carry out terrorist acts in Europe and in France.”
Ever since he was jailed pending trial two-and-a-half years ago, Hicheur has said he never agreed to “anything concrete”.
“There is not the least proof of a beginning of a (terrorist) intention,” said Hicheur’s lawyer, Patrick Baudouin.
The lawyer slammed what he called “the steamroller of anti-terrorist justice”.
“He has since the beginning been painted as the ideal guilty party,” Baudouin said. “When the justice system gets going it finds it difficult to admit its mistakes.”
If found guilty, Hicheur could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.