Published online 9 October 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.993
Updated online: 12 October 2009

News

Physicist working at CERN arrested

Postdoc faces terrorism charges in France.

French police have arrested a physicist working at CERN, Europe's premier particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, on charges of terrorism.

The suspect, a French-Algerian, was taken into custody by French police on 8 October in the town of Vienne. He is believed to be a postdoc at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) who, since 2003, has been performing data analysis on one of four major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's most powerful particle accelerator.

Some 700 scientists work on the LHCb detector.Maximilien Brice/CERN

According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, French antiterrorism police arrested the 32-year-old researcher together with his 25-year-old brother. The duo is suspected of passing along information about possible terrorism targets inside France to members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — the North African wing of al-Qaeda.

There is no evidence that his work at CERN is connected to terrorism, according to laboratory spokesman James Gillies. All work at the laboratory is published in the open domain and is not military in nature, said a CERN statement.

Jérôme Grosse, a spokesman for EPFL, said that the university had not received any official notice of the arrest. "We are still waiting for a name," he says. "At this point I don't have any information."

"Everybody is surprised," says Andrei Golutvin, the spokesperson for the LHC beauty experiment (LHCb), which the suspect was working on. The individual is believed to have had a minor role on the project, which involves some 700 scientists from 52 institutions around the world. LHCb studies the decay of heavy bottom quarks and their antiquark partners. "What we are doing is pure fundamental science," Golutvin says.

The LHC has been shut down since last autumn after a major accident damaged a section of the machine. The collider is currently set to restart in late November. 

Updated:

It is being widely reported that the suspect is Adlène Hicheur, a postdoc at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Hicheur had previously worked at the BaBar experiment at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Stanford, California, and at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK. Under French law Hicheur is expected to be charged later today. Hicheur's brother, Halim, has been released.

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