Nuclear researcher sentenced in France for plotting attack
PARIS (Reuters) - A Paris court sentenced a Franco-Algerian nuclear physicist to five years in prison on Friday on charges of helping to plot an attack in France in 2009 with an al Qaeda militant in Algeria.
Adlene Hicheur, 35, a former researcher at the prestigious CERN physics lab in Geneva, was found guilty of providing logistical advice to Mustapha Debchi, a militant for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), using encrypted messages sent via the Internet.
Hicheur said he had been charged over his opinions rather than his acts, but prosecutors called him a "technical attack adviser" and said he had provided Debchi with a terrorist manual.
His lawyer Patrick Baudoin called the ruling a "revolting injustice" and described it as "simply abusive".
Hicheur's trial comes amid heightened tensions in France over Islamic militancy after an al Qaeda-inspired gunman shot dead seven people in March before police killed him in a siege.
Following the drama which gripped the nation in the middle of a presidential campaign, police commandos arrested 19 suspected militants.
In addition to providing planning support, Hicheur was accused of suggesting a French military base in eastern France as a target and relaying Internet messages between AQIM and Somali militants.
He was also accused of discussing the opening of an anonymous Swiss bank account, making money transfers and relaying internet messages between AQIM and Somali militants.
Prosecutors had called for a six-year prison sentence, but Hicheur was handed a lighter five-year term, including one year suspended, on the grounds that he had never physically met his contact and had corresponded by computer.
He has already been in detention for two and half years, which means he could be released soon.
His lawyer Baudoin did not say whether he would appeal.
(Reporting by Thierry Leveque; Writing by Leigh Thomas)