Big Bang scientist 'admits link to al-Qa'ida plotters'

French authorities say leading nuclear physicist recommended targets
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An internationally renowned nuclear physicist has admitted to French investigators that he led a second life as an al-Qa'ida "mole", according to French judicial sources.

A picture began to emerge over the weekend of Adlène Hicheur, 32, who works at the "Big Bang" hadron collider on the Swiss-French border, and who is likely to be formally accused today of having "links with a terrorist organisation". However, his brother, Zitouni Hicheur, 25, who was arrested with him last Thursday at their parents' home just south of Lyon, has been released. Investigators believe the elder brother – who has worked on high-level, nuclear research projects in Britain and the United States – acted alone when he sent emails to Algerian members of al- Qa'ida and listed potential terrorist targets in France.

According to the French Sunday newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, French security services fear that Adlène Hicheur was being "groomed" to become the "pivot" of a terror campaign starting in France but possibly spreading to other European countries. One worrying line of inquiry suggests that members of Eta, the Basque separatist group, had also been recruited to "case" potential targets. Contrary to earlier reports, nuclear sites are not believed to have been on the list.

Adlène Hicheur was once a research fellow at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Chilton in Oxfordshire, and studied for his PhD at Stanford University in California. He is the eldest of six brothers and sisters of Algerian-born parents, who live on a council estate in Vienne, just south of Lyon. The siblings, born in France, have each succeeded brilliantly in the French education system. No other family members are suspected of having al-Qa'ida links.

Neighbours described the Hicheur family as devout and hard-working people who had lived there since the Seventies. "They were held out to young people here as an example of what you could achieve, whatever your background might be," a local youth worker said. "There is a state of shock at what has happened and some anger. People think this must be a mistake."

French counter-terrorism and intelligence agencies have been tracking Adlène Hicheur for 18 months. Using sophisticated monitoring equipment which allows them to read emails as they are transmitted, French intelligence concluded in recent days that he had reached the "intention or desire stage" of preparing to mount an attack.