One of two men arrested in France on Thursday on suspicion of having links with an Islamist terrorist group was working as a researcher at the Cern “big bang” laboratory on the French-Swiss border, the nuclear research body said on Friday. The man, believed to be a French national of Algerian descent, was detained by police near Poitiers with his brother, after allegedly being in contact with people close to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a branch of the terrorist network.
Cern said the man arrested was a physicist working with the Large Hadron Collider experiment intended to re-create conditions immediately after the “big bang” that created the universe. The suspect’s role at Cern will raise concerns that suspected Islamist militants are seeking to acquire advanced technological expertise, or that the laboratory at Cern, which stands for European Organisation for Nuclear Research, could have been targeted for a potential attack. Cern said in a statement that it was a particle physics laboratory dedicated to researching fundamental questions about the universe. All of its research was in the public domain and none “has the potential for military application”.
Cern added that the man, arrested on Thursday, was not a Cern employee but was working under a contract with an outside institute. The arrested physicist had been under surveillance by anti-terrorist police for a year and a half, according to Le Figaro newspaper’s website. It said police intercepted internet communications between the suspect and people in North Africa with links to the Al-Qaeda offshoot. Brice Hortefeux, French interior minister, appeared to confirm reports that the arrested man could have drawn up a list of potential targets in France.