Hadron lab scientist held on terrorism charges

Physicist working on Big Bang suspected of advising al-Qa'ida on possible targets

A nuclear physicist working on the "large collider" experiment to simulate the Big Bang has been arrested in France on suspicion of advising al-Qa'ida on possible terrorist targets.

The 32-year-old French scientist, of Algerian origin, is being held with his younger brother after being trailed, and bugged, by French anti-terrorist police for more than a year.

A judicial source told the newspaper Le Figaro: "This is very high level." The French Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, said that the investigation "may perhaps show that we have prevented the worst".

The scientist – who was not immediately named – was arrested alongside his brother near Lyons on Thursday on suspicion of having contacts with al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, or Aqim. He was said to have been suspected of giving advice on possible nuclear targets within France.

The suspect was one of 7,000 working on the Cern project on the Swiss-French border to build a Large Hadron Collider, with the aim of simulating some of the conditions of the Big Bang in an attempt to answer questions about the origins of the universe. Since its official opening last year, the 17-mile circular underground tunnel has mostly been closed for repairs.

French sources suggested to Le Figaro that he was not planning to threaten the collider itself. Officials at Cern added that the arrested scientist had no access to materials that could be used for terrorism. Cern emphasised that his work at the centre, on one of the smaller experiments linked to the collider, should not be cause for alarm. "None of our research has potential for military application, and all our results are published openly in the public domain," a statement said. The physicist had no access to the tunnel itself.

Le Figaro said that the French internal security agency, the DCRI, hoped the arrests would help European governments to dismantle an important al-Qa'ida network. Intelligence sources told the newspaper that the scientist had been under surveillance for 18 months after his name came up in the investigation of the so-called "Afghan network" of European terror groups.

Investigators also intercepted internet messages between the older of the two brothers and people identified as being linked to Aqim. The messages concerned possible French nuclear targets. Other judicial sources told Reuters that the men were believed to be planning attacks in France but no specific targets had yet been identified.

The advanced scientific qualifications of the older brother suggest that this was not "just a fantasy" but a real plot, intelligence sources said. Police seized two computers, three hard disks and several USB keys.

Mr Hortefeux recalled yesterday that Aqim and other terror groups had recently listed France among their possible targets. "We are on permanent alert and follow the declarations of certain groups day by day," he said. "We never drop our guard. The risk is permanent."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee