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Terror charges filed against French physicist

A French judicial official says preliminary charges have been filed against a physicist who works at the world's largest atom smasher and is suspected of al-Qaida links.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A French judicial official says preliminary charges have been filed against a physicist who works at the world's largest atom smasher and is suspected of al-Qaida links.

The 32-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, who works on the Large Hadron Collider, is suspected of involvement with North African group Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

A French judicial official says preliminary charges were filed Monday for "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Under French law, filing preliminary charges gives the investigator time to pursue the inquiry before deciding whether to send a suspect for trial or drop the case.

The suspect was one of two brothers arrested Oct. 8 in southeastern French city of Vienne, 20 miles south of Lyon.

The physicist, who was affiliated with an outside institute, has been assigned to analysis projects at the laboratory since 2003. He was one of more than 7,000 scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest atom smasher, said the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN.

Research had no ‘military application’
The physicist had no contact with anything that could be used for terrorism, CERN said in a statement.

"None of our research has potential for military application, and all our results are published openly in the public domain," the statement said.

The suspect had not been seen at CERN for several months, according to spokesman James Gillies. That wasn't unusual because the collider wasn't working and there were no collisions to be examined.

The LHCb experiment where he worked is one of a series of research projects along the 17-mile circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border.

"LHCb is an experiment set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive and build the universe we inhabit today," the organization said on its Web site.

The Big Bang was a vast explosion that scientists theorize was the beginning of the universe 14 billion years ago.

The collider started spectacularly in September 2008 with beams of particles flying in both directions on the first day of trying. But nine days later, a massive electric failure related to a construction fault caused the entire machine to shut down.

It has been undergoing repairs almost ever since with the bill expected to total about 40 million Swiss francs ($40 million) over the course of several years.

While the arrest is expected to be no more than a public relations loss, it came as the organization was preparing to restart the machine in November for the first time in 14 months.

No indication of sabotage
Spokeswoman Renilde Vanden Broeck said there was no indication of sabotage in the shutdown and that the arrested man would have had access only to the small experiment he was working on, and not to the tunnel itself.

The projects are aimed at making discoveries about the makeup of matter when the Large Hadron Collider starts collecting data later this year or early next year.

The European laboratory has been working for 15 years to build the collider.

Not all physicists working on the LHCb project were informed of the arrest.

"This is news to me," said Ken Wyllie, one of dozens of scientists in the department.

The prosecutor's office in the Isere region said the arrest of the physicist had been transferred to the anti-terrorist section of the Paris prosecutor's office.

Many of the scientists at the laboratory live in France, and about half the operation is on French territory.

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