France: Top physicist arrested for collaborating with AQIM (UPDATE: US Intelligence)

France: Top physicist arrested for collaborating with AQIM

Adlène Hicheur, a top French physicist, was arrested with his younger brother last week for links with AQIM (al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb).

News of Muslims being arrested across Europe on varying suspicions of preparing terror attacks are not that rare. The arrest of a nuclear physicist, on the other hand, makes quite a splash. There's been a lot of speculation since his arrest about where exactly he was planning his nuclear attack, particularly since he worked in various laboratories in the US, Britain and Switzerland.

According to Reuters:

A French physicist of Algerian descent, arrested on suspicion of collaborating with Islamic militants, made only vague references to attacks in emails intercepted by U.S. intelligence services, a magistrate told Reuters on Sunday.

The 32-year-old, who worked at a nuclear research institute, was in contact with people close to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a mainly Algerian Islamic militant network that associates itself with the group led by Osama bin Laden.

"In his exchanges with the AQIM, he spoke of plans for attacks in general, but we're not talking on an operational level, it was not a case of means or dates," said the magistrate, who asked not to be named.

"He had proposed targets, but it was inconsistent," the source said, adding that there had been no talk of a nuclear attack.

The brother has since been released.

There are two other interesting points to this story.

One is that the French intelligence services have an extremely sophisticated monitoring service that apparently allows them to read your email as it's written. Adlène has been under surveillance for over a year when he was arrested.

The second is that this is not the first time that successful European-born Muslims turned to terrorism:

The brothers, French-born with devout, hard-working Algerian parents, fit a worrying pattern seen before in the arrest of suspected Islamist extremists in France. Far from being frustrated or unemployed young men from the margins of society, both Adlène and Halim had succeeded brilliantly in the French education system and taken up senior academic or research posts.

The younger brother, Halim, has a doctorate in physiology and the biomechanics of motion from the Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris. He is now a research fellow at the Collège de France in Paris, France's most prestigious academic institution.

Neighbours of the Hicheur family in Vienne said that they were devout and hard-working people who had lived there since the 1970s. The academic success of the sons has been the pride, not just of the family, but of the whole estate.

"They were held out to young people here as an example of what you could achieve, whatever your background," said a local youth worker, who asked not to be identified. "There is a state of shock at what has happened and some anger. People think that this must be a mistake."

In this case, the brothers do fit the common profile of a 2006 study (male, Arab, born and raised in Europe, lower/middle class families, not far from the average age of 27):

A recently completed Dutch study of 242 Islamic radicals convicted or accused of planning terrorist attacks in Europe from 2001 to 2006 found that most were men of Arab descent who had been born and raised in Europe and came from lower or middle-class backgrounds. They ranged in age from 16 to 59 at the time of their arrests; the average was 27. About one in four had a criminal record.

The author of the study, Edwin Bakker, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, tried to examine almost 20 variables concerning the suspects' social and economic backgrounds. In general, he determined that no reliable profile existed -- their traits were merely an accurate reflection of the overall Muslim immigrant population in Europe. "There is no standard jihadi terrorist in Europe," the study concluded.

This connects to an article I posted earlier. According to a study prepared for the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Muslims (and other youths) don't radicalize because of their own personal situation but rather due to a perception that their 'group' isn't being treated fairly. Or, in the case of Islamic radicalism, that Muslims elsewhere around the world are being oppressed.


According to Reuters, the sophisticated surveillance system is apparently American.

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