6-year sentence sought in French terror trial

AP News
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Posted: Mar 30, 2012 6:01 PM
6-year sentence sought in French terror trial

A French state prosecutor on Friday asked a Paris court to sentence an Algerian-born nuclear physicist to six years in prison for his suspected role in plotting terrorism with al-Qaida's north African wing.

The request came at the end of the two-day trial of Adlene Hicheur, a former researcher at Switzerland's CERN laboratory for alleged "criminal association with a view to plotting terrorist attacks."

The three-judge panel has recessed for deliberations before handing down its verdict on May 4. Hicheur, who has been behind bars since he was arrested in October 2009, risks a maximum 10 years in prison.

The 35-year-old scientist and his defenders say he was a victim of allegedly overzealous French anti-terrorism laws and that he explored ideas on jihadist websites _ but never took any concrete step toward terrorism.

The case centers on about 35 emails between Hicheur and an alleged contact with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb named Mustapha Debchi, who tried to convince him to carry out a suicide bombing. Hicheur declined, but in one response suggested striking at the barracks of a battalion of elite Alpine troops in the eastern town Cran-Gevrier.

Hicheur claimed he was on morphine for a herniated disk and going through a personal "zone of turbulence" when he wrote an 2009 email that advocated an attack on the barracks.

Prosecutor Guillaume Portenseigne rejected Hicheur's claims of a lack of lucidity and characterized the defendant as "a man who had everything going for him ... but just got led astray in a radical jihadist Islam."

"Adlene Hicheur was a budding terrorist: He only needed that determining meeting to slip" into concrete action, the prosecutor told the court.

Defense lawyer Patrick Baudouin said a conviction would be "an error" and that "From the beginning, everything has been done to demonize him, to make him into ... France's most dangerous terrorist, potentially susceptible to participate in a bombing."

That, he argued, "would place on his shoulders something that he is incapable of doing _ fortunately."

Hicheur's defenders say the context of the trial makes their case difficult because of recent terror attacks in France. Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, police say another young man of Algerian descent killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in the cities of Toulouse and Montauban and claimed ties to al-Qaida. Mohamed Merah, 23, died later in a shootout with police.