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TERRORISM

French CERN nuke expert jailed for terror plot

A Franco-Algerian nuclear physicist was sentenced Friday to five years in jail – with one year suspended – for plotting terror attacks in France.

Police arrested Adlene Hicheur, a 35-year-old researcher studying the universe’s birth – the Big Bang – at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in October 2009 after intercepting his emails.

His father embraced him in the Paris court room before he was taken away to serve his term in prison. Hicheur has already spent two and a half years in jail while awaiting trial.

Hicheur admitted at the start of his trial in late March that he was going through a “turbulent” time when he wrote the mails but denied he intended to carry out attacks.

The trial of Hicheur, who was charged with criminal association as part of a terrorist enterprise, began a week after police shot dead Franco-Algerian Mohamed Merah for killing seven people in and around the city of Toulouse.

Prosecutors focused on emails between Hicheur and an alleged Al-Qaeda contact.

Hicheur told the court the emails were written while his “physical and psychological state” was impaired while he was on sick leave for a slipped disc.

Following Hicheur’s arrest at his parents’ home near CERN, the research institute which lies on the Franco-Swiss border northwest of Geneva, police discovered a trove of Al-Qaeda and Islamist militant literature.

France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency’s suspicions were raised after a statement from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was sent to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Elysee Palace in early 2008.

Following the message police carried out surveillance on several email accounts including Hicheur’s and his exchanges with Mustapha Debchi, an alleged AQIM representative living in Algeria.

In the emails Hicheur suggested “possible objectives in Europe and particularly in France”, mentioning for example a French military base at Cran-Gevrier, close to CERN.

Asked by Debchi if he was “prepared to work in a unit becoming active in France,” Hicheur replied: “The answer is of course YES”. 

Magistrates investigating the case said the exchanges “crossed the line of simple debate of political or religious ideas to enter the sphere of terrorist violence.”

They say the accused “knowingly agreed with Mustapha Debchi to set up an operational cell ready to carry out terrorist acts in Europe and in France.”

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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