French magistrates charged a nuclear scientist suspected of Al-Qaeda links with “membership of a terrorist group” on Monday, judicial officials said.
The 32-year-old engineer, who was studying the universe’s birth — the Big Bang — at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), was arrested on Thursday last week by police intelligence.
He appeared Monday in front of a magistrate in Paris to be placed under formal judicial investigation and was to hear later in the day whether he will remain in custody pending trial.
Online contact intercepted
Officials said last week that investigators monitoring the Internet had intercepted contacts between him and al-Qaeda’s North African offshoot.
He had expressed a desire to carry out attacks, but had “not got to the stage of carrying out material acts of preparation”.
The suspect’s 25-year-old brother, who does not work at CERN, was also arrested last week but has since been released without charge.
The European Organisation for Nuclear Research operates one of the world’s leading nuclear research laboratories attached to a 27 kilometre tunnel running under the Franco-Swiss border just outside Geneva.
In the tunnel, a particle accelerator attempts to recreate the sub-atomic conditions present at the time of the Big Bang.
The lab confirmed on Friday that a physicist working on the Large Hadron Collider had been arrested on “suspicion of links to terrorist organisations.”
It added, however, that “he was not a CERN employee and performed his research under a contract with an outside institute. His work did not bring him into contact with anything that could be used for terrorism.”
According to CERN’s website, the suspect’s experiment was “set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive and build the universe we inhabit today.”
Nevertheless, reports have suggested the arrest of a scientist with alleged Al-Qaeda ties will increase fears that the Islamist militant group is seeking weapons technology or planning to attack nuclear targets.