Suspect physicist discussed attacks on French army

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 1:00 PM

A French nuclear physicist discussed possible terrorist attacks targeting France's army in e-mail exchanges with North Africa's al-Qaida branch before his arrest last month, the Paris prosecutor's office said Tuesday.

Adlene Hicheur, a 32-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, had worked on the Large Hadron Collider _ the world's largest atom smasher _ as well as at a technology institute in neighboring Switzerland before he was taken into custody at his home in Vienne, France, on Oct. 8.

His alleged e-email conversations discussed no concrete plans for an operation but cited examples of possible targets, the prosecutor's office said.

Confirming a report that appeared in the regional newspaper Le Dauphine Libere, the prosecutor's office said one potential target was a French army brigade specialized in mountain combat, which is based near where Hicheur lived. The 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade currently has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The possibility of striking French businesses was also raised, the prosecutor's office said.

French judicial officials have said the physicist acknowledged to investigators that he corresponded over the Internet with a contact in North Africa's al-Qaida branch, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

The group regularly targets government and security forces in Algeria, and occasionally attacks foreigners.

U.S. monitors picked up the Internet exchange between the scientist and his contact in the militant group, leading to his arrest, officials have said.

At work, the physicist had no contact with anything that could be used for terrorism, the European Organization for Nuclear Research has said.

Investigating magistrate Christophe Teissier filed preliminary charges against the suspect last month for "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise," a broad charge that is often used in terror-related cases in France. Switzerland has opened its own investigation into the case.