French security forces detained a scientist at the CERN facility today for connections to an al-Qaeda group in Algeria with a long history of terrorist activities, especially against the French. The lab worker and his brother allegedly communicated with AQIM, which aligned with al-Qaeda in 2007, to discuss attack targets in France. CERN hosts the Hadron Collider, which itself would make a very tempting target for terrorists:
French agents have arrested a researcher from Europe’s top atomic lab on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda, fuelling fears that terrorists could be targeting the nuclear industry.
The 32-year-old man, who was detained along with his brother, works for the prestigious European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Geneva, Switzerland, according to French police sources.
”The inquiry will doubtless say what were the objectives in France or elsewhere and indicate perhaps that we have avoided the worst possible scenario,” said Brice Hortefeux, the French Interior Minister.
And, contra James Webb, the suspects had a connection to Afghanistan, albeit perhaps indirect:
A source said French intelligence officers had intercepted messages in which the man had suggested targets in France.
”He had expressed a wish or a desire to commit terrorist actions, but had not materially prepared them,” said the source.
The suspect had been under surveillance for about 18 months after he was identified during an investigation into a French network which sent Islamic radicals to Afghanistan.
CERN represents the pinnacle of European work in physics and nuclear technology, and the Hadron Collider has already generated a fair amount of mostly unfounded controversy and fear. It was designed to test theories about matter and black holes, and some worried that the collider could start a reaction that could not be contained and destroy the entire universe. That same fear arose from the Manhattan Project in its early days, although not seriously, and was proven false.
The laboratory quickly noted that the suspect did not work directly for CERN — apparently, he was a consultant of some sort — and that his work had no military applications. That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t get his hands on critical information, such as supplies, formulas, and other data that would help AQ build their own nuclear device in the future. Since the French have been surveilling him for 18 months, presumably they arrested him before he could pass along any critical information.
Still, this confirms that al-Qaeda and its network affiliates remain extremely interested in gaining nuclear capability, or at least targeting the nuclear capability of its enemies.