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Terrorism Trial for Physicist Ends

PARIS—The brief, 2-day trial of particle physicist Adlène Hicheur, who had been charged with "associating with criminals in relation to terrorist activities," ended on Friday, and the 35-year-old Franco-Algerian won't know until 4 May whether he will spend several more years behind bars or be able to resume his scientific career. The prosecution asked the three-judge panel for a 6-year prison sentence for Hicheur, who has already been held for two and a half years in the Fresnes jail near Paris.

The centerpiece of the prosecution's case is e-mails Hicheur has acknowledged exchanging with Mustafa Debchi, a supposed member of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. At one point, for example, Debchi suggested a suicide bombing. Hicheur declined, but the e-mails do show he discussed other possible actions, such as targeting military troops.

Hicheur, who during the e-mail exchange was off of work from the CERN particle physics facility in Switzerland due to a herniated disc, testified that he had been taking morphine for pain and was in a "turbulent period." "I was out of sorts at the time. … Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have responded to his e-mails," he said at the trial. Hicheur also explained his visits to various online forums discussing jihadist actions as "intellectual curiosity." But he rejected the prosecutor's attempt to label him as a pro-jihadist, saying "I am a simple Muslim."

During the trial, defense lawyer Patrick Baudouin admitted that words used by Hicheur in e-mails exchanged with Debchi were "disturbing," but he argued that his client never took any concrete steps toward a terrorist act. Still, Hicheur's testimony left many media onlookers confused about his intentions. The trial "failed to solve the mystery of his personality or the reality of his motivations," the French daily paper Le Monde wrote.