France - An Algerian-born former nuclear physicist accused of plotting with al-Qaida's north African arm to attack a French military base or economic interests went on trial Thursday, insisting he never took any step toward carrying out terrorism — and simply exchanged ideas online.
Adlene Hicheur, 35, who used to work at Europe's most prestigious particle accelerator, welcomed the chance to make his case: He's been in prison for 2-1/2 years awaiting trial. But his allies worry the timing could not be worse: it comes days after France's biggest terror attacks in years.
The case centers on about 35 emails between Hicheur and an alleged contact with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb named Mustapha Debchi, who tried to convince him to carry out a suicide bombing. Hicheur declined, but in one response suggested striking at the barracks of a battalion of elite Alpine troops in the eastern town Cran-Gevrier.
Pressed on that by the presiding judge, Hicheur suggested he was not thinking clearly, that he was going through a "zone of turbulence" then and was on morphine to deal with the pain of a herniated disk. He entered court with a cane.
"I was out of sorts at the time," said Hicheur, who looked frail and entered the courtroom with a cane. "Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have responded to his emails."
While laid up with his herniated disk, Hicheur railed in various e-mails about the need to punish Western governments for the allegedly anti-Muslim wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, court documents show.
Hicheur described himself as a modest man of ideas and sensitive to the plight of "people in occupied areas," and explained his visits to alleged jihadist forums on the Internet as "intellectual curiosity."