LONDON, UK – A French court has sentenced an Algerian-born nuclear physicist at the prestigious CERN laboratory to five years in jail for plotting terrorist attacks.
Adlene Hicheur, who previously worked as a researcher at the European organisation 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).
Court documents say the pseudonymous emails between Hicheur and an AQIM member 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.
France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency’s suspicions were raised after a statement from AQIM was sent to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Elysee Palace in early 2008, according to the Agence France Presse.
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Hicheur’s father embraced him in the Paris courtroom before he was taken away to prison on Friday, the BBC reports. Hicheur has already spent two and a half years in jail while awaiting trial.
Hicheur’s lawyers claim he was simply expressing strong views online, and never actually said he would carry out a terrorist attack. The scientist and his defenders say he was a victim of overzealous anti-terrorism laws in France.
Speaking after the judgment, Hicheur’s lawyer called the verdict “scandalous,” the Associated Press reports. Patrick Baudouin said Hicheur hadn’t decided whether to appeal the verdict, but that if he did not, with time off for good behaviour, Hicheur “should be out rather quickly.”
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At the start of the trial in late March, 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.
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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