CERN scientist sentenced to 5 years in terrorism case

French-Algerian physicist Adlène Hicheur, 35, was today sentenced by a French court to five years in prison for “criminal association with the intent to prepare terrorist acts.” The court ruled that the Large Hadron Collider researcher's email exchange in 2009 with a presumed member of Al Qaeda "constituted a criminal act." From the New York Times:

The scientist, Adlène Hicheur, 35, did not deny the exchange of messages, in which he suggested targets for terrorist strikes in France, but maintains that he never intended to act on his words. The trial has raised difficult questions about the possible excesses of French antiterrorism law, which in effect treats intent as a criminal act. A researcher at the Large Hadron Collider project at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Switzerland, Dr. Hicheur met his interlocutor on an Internet forum dedicated to radical Islam while on sick leave, nursing a herniated disk at his parents’ home in southeastern France.

A related story at the BBC. Not everyone believes he is guilty.


  1. HAHAHA!  The Higgs Boson of the future’s plans to team with Al Qaeda and sabatoge the HLC will has to have been thwarted soon again, for the first time!

  2. Good luck Europe, Its up to you to simmer down the boiling hatred Islamic fundamentalists have towards the west. As your brethren on the other side of the world are doing everything they can to keep them pissed off.

  3. According to the BoingBoing Blurb. He suggested targets for acts, to a group that he thought would have the ability to carry such acts.  “presumed member of Al Qaeda”.

    Now, turn this around and think if the person was relaying information about Abortion Doctors, and clinic workers as ‘targets’, with address, location, and habits on sites known for their harmful activities and used the defense “my intent wasn’t to cause harm”.   Is there a diffrence there? If others use that information for ‘targets’?

    1. There is a difference between talking about doing something and actually doing it. Otherwise, movies which inspire killers would be illegal too. Precrime is punished in a movie which takes place in a not so far future. Or is it?

  4. HELLO?! Do you realize what they do at CERN. Ever hear of anti-matter? Ever watched  Star Trek? Terrorist, my ass.

  5. 6 comments in and we’re still at the “nervous sci-fi joke” stage.  

    The Nature article states ” [family and colleagues] argue that his arrest was a political message sent by the government to France’s Muslim community, warning that everyone, no matter how educated, is under scrutiny.”   Short of finding some email directive from the French gov, what’s the point of such a claim?  There do exist, more than likely, email exchanges between Hicheur and AQ.  Before Science goes and blindly protects its own, remember that sometimes people do bad things.  Rightly or wrongly, French law supports such pretrial holds.  And, hell – call me a wuss but I wouldn’t want this guy unleashing a pack of strangelets – not even on France.  

  6. I can only go on the info presented here, not a speculation he was suggesting techniques. The claim that “no matter educated’ falls short for me. As it suggests that educated people should have special privilege if they propose targets for attacks to a individual that is a member of group that has carried out such attacks.

    I don’t think, from the info present, that he was suggesting any tech, but rather targets. Being educated shouldn’t give him a pass if the intent was to cause harm to other people. He wasn’t doing ‘fiction’ here, as it (the article) states he was in direct communication with a known terrorist group suggesting targets for attacks. (or what he believed to be a terrorist group/individual etc).

  7. Last I heard, Remmic, no one has yet made more than few atoms of antihydrogen and confined them for 2/10 of a second. Of course that doesn’t mean some government somewhere hasn’t done better, but I don’t think we have the technology to produce enough antimatter of any kind to blow up a dust mote yet. As far as I’m concerned, this is a GOOD thing! Thinking of George Bush with his fingers anywhere NEAR The Button was almost enough to give me ulcers!


  8. Xeni, your link text to the Nature article (“Not everyone believes he is guilty”) is misleading. The article is from last year and doesn’t address the merits of the case at all (unsurprisingly, given that no evidence had been published at the time) but argues against continuing Hicheur’s very long period of pre-trial incarceration.

  9. It is hard for me to tell what was going on. The scary thing is the terrorist group was talking to CERN. This means they were not trying to get ideas for where to attack, but to try and get hold of some of the most advanced technology available on the planet. This parallels what the Aum Shinirkyo cult did. 

    In case you don’t remember, these guys successfully executed high-tech terrorism in Tokyo in 1995. They gassed Tokyo subways with Sarin and had produced botulinus toxin, but also they were trying to get hold of advanced technologies, and their top people included a particle physicist and a chemical weapons expert.

    Especially they wanted to make a laser gun. To gain such information they broke into top Japanese defense contractors and they interviewed a Nobel laureate. They were trying to learn about nuclear and tesla seismic weapons too. IIRC they produced drugs and used LSD to control members too.

    The cult has been hunted for 17 years. One was captured this January, others are still on the run. So it scares me a lot to imagine the guerilla fighters thinking of what they can do with a particle beam or even just a high power industrial laser. I hope the FBI and so on are taking enough time out from manufacturing evidence to track where high powered magnets and lasers are being shipped.

    It would be well not to underestimate Al Qaeda or any number of other radicalized groups. I absolutely do not think the TSA or the destruction of constitutional rights currently in vogue will have anything to do with preserving safety.

    If you actually read the link above you will see that Aum actually had US$1 Billion in assets (IIRC they had their own pc hardware business in Akihabara), and innocent members included the Minister of Science and Technology. 

    If Al Qaeda now is learning from Aum and is trying to gain high technology and has really interviewed a CERN physicist this should ring loud alarm bells. It means they are not hiding in caves anymore.

    The physicist himself is not important. It is the concept that a persistent network of guerillas might be revolutionizing their approach, for example building financial assets, high technology, and contacts in rogue regimes like the Aum cult did.

    1. It would be well not to underestimate Al Qaeda or any number of other radicalized groups.

      Why? Except for the events of more than a decade ago, they’ve shown minimal aptitude for inflicting significant harm.

  10. Perhaps I am too tired to see it (and I *am* tired) but I can’t find enough information in these articles to even speculate on whether he might be innocent.  I can’t even speculate on whether he is guilty.  (erm, I *think* that made sense.)

    He is supposed to have suggested targets to al-qaeda.  That’s all I get.  I don’t even see any further details. 

    If I name some targets now, am I doing the same thing?  If I mail al-qaeda and say “why don’t you pick on someone your own size”, am I doing the same thing?  

    Not enough information.  Brain hurts.

  11. Providing tactical information to an enemy is actually considered treason in most countries. I don’t know the specifics of this case of course, but if this guy was actually talking to an Al Qaeda representative and giving them tactical information on targets, that’s agains the law no matter how you spin it.

    Having just moved from France, and having lived there for nearly two years, I can honestly say that I’m glad he was caught. If an attack had occurred and people were hurt or killed, almost everyone here would be saying something along the lines of “How could they not have caught him? Why didn’t they see his connections to Al Qaeda? That oversight should be investigated.”

    It makes me think that if the 9/11 hijackers had been caught just before their acts, some people might have been asking if conspiracy to commit terrorism was a valid charge to arrest and convict them. And then we’d have been treated to such deep thoughts about how they were extremists but just taking flying lessons, and how they were simply engineers who were frustrated and wanted to fantasize about acts of terrorism.

    You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re for arresting these people in collusion before they act, or you don’t ask why these intelligence oversights are allowed a pass. It’s one or the other.

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