Scientist accused of plotting to blow up ‘city size of London’

Brother of the accused talks with police officer at Paris court. Picture: PA
Brother of the accused talks with police officer at Paris court. Picture: PA
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A NUCLEAR scientist accused of plotting an explosion that would have destroyed “a city the size of London” went on trial in Paris yesterday.

Alleged al-Qaeda agent Adlene Hicheur is accused of compiling a “hit list” of targets that included French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his former interior minister, Brice Hortefeux.

The 35-year-old French-Algerian was arrested in a joint MI5 and French intelligence sting three years ago while researching the Big Bang theory at the CERN nuclear laboratory near Geneva.

Officials said they intercepted e-mails he exchanged with al-Qaeda’s North African branch, in which he plotted to blow up a Total oil refinery and a French military base.

In one e-mail to suspected Islamic terror chief Mustapha Debchi, Hicheur said he would “propose possible objectives in Europe and particularly in France”.

He wrote in March 2009: “Concerning the matter of objectives, they differ depending on the different results sought after the hits.

“For example: if it’s about punishing the state because of its military activities in Muslim countries – Afghanistan – then it should be a purely military objective. For example: the airbase at Karan Jefrier near Annecy in France. This base trains troops and sends them to Afghanistan.”

In June 2009, Debchi asked Hicheur: “Don’t beat around the bush: are you prepared to work in a unit becoming active in France?”

Hicheur replied: “Concerning your proposal, the answer is of course YES but there are a few observations. If your proposal relates to a precise strategy – such as working in the heart of the main enemy’s house and emptying its blood of strength – then I should revise the plan that I’ve prepared.”

French intelligence sources said money transfers had also taken place between the pair.

One security source said at the time: “He [Hicheur] had offered his services to strike with an active service unit based in France.

“He had started to compile a precise list of intended targets, including a Total oil refinery which would have caused an explosion which would have destroyed a city the size of London.

“Assassination targets including the president and interior minister were also on the list.”

Magistrates investigating the case said Hicheur’s e-mails “crossed the line of simple debate of political or religious ideas to enter the sphere of terrorist violence”.

At CERN – the European Organisation for Nuclear Research – Hicheur worked on the large hadron collider, a device designed to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang.

Hicheur’s lawyer now fears his trial for “criminal association as part of a terrorist enterprise” could be jeopardised by the seven murders committed by in Toulouse by Mohamed Merah.

Patrick Baudouin said: “There is not the least proof against Mr Hicheur of any terrorist intention. He has since the beginning been painted as the ideal guilty party. When the justice system gets going it finds it difficult to admit its mistakes.”

Hicheur, who denies the charge, faces ten years in prison if convicted.