Swiss open probe of al-Qaida nuke physicist case

AP News
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Posted: Nov 08, 2009 10:03 AM

Switzerland has opened its own investigation into the case of a nuclear physicist France suspected of al-Qaida links, an official said Sunday.

The French suspect, who worked at the world's largest atom smasher on the Swiss-French border and at a Swiss technology institute, is unspecified in Switzerland's investigation, but it is the same case as the French one, Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Walburga Bur said.

She said the investigation was opened at the end of October and is directed at an unknown person or persons on suspicion of supporting a criminal organization. In line with French and Swiss judicial policy, authorities have not identified him.

Bur, who confirmed a report in the weekly NZZ am Sonntag, refused to say more about the case.

The 32-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin had been working on the Large Hadron Collider and teaching at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. He was arrested at his home in Vienne, France, on Oct. 8. Lab officials say he hasn't been at work for most of the year.

The French suspect the scientist of involvement with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a North African group that targets Algerian government forces and sometimes attacks foreigners.

French investigating magistrate Christophe Teissier has filed preliminary charges against him for criminal association with a terrorist enterprise. The broad charge is often used in terror-related cases in France.

French judicial officials have said the suspect has acknowledged that he corresponded online with the group and vaguely discussed plans for terror attacks.

Under French law, preliminary charges mean the investigating judge has determined there is strong evidence to suggest involvement in a crime. It gives the investigator time to pursue the inquiry before deciding whether to send the suspect to trial or drop the case.

The particle physicist was one of more than 7,000 scientists working to prepare for operation of the new collider this winter.

The massive machine, in a 27-kilometer (17-mile) circular tunnel under the border, aims to discover more about the makeup of matter and to explore phenomena such as antimatter and the Big Bang theory on the origin of the universe.

James Gillies, spokesman for the host European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, has said there was nothing at the collider of interest to terrorists.

Officials say the facility has areas with extremely cold helium to supercool the electrical circuits, high magnetic fields and beams of protons and other subatomic particles, but none of its research has the potential for military application and all its results are published in the public domain.

Jerome Grosse, a spokesman for the Lausanne institute, said the suspect had not been seen at work there for most of the year, but that he had been in touch by e-mail. Gillies said he also hadn't been seen at CERN for months.

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Higgins reported from Geneva.