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CERN physicist accused of terror links. What access did he have?

Adlène Hicheur worked in a large group that has run experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Now, he is accused of collaborating with an Al Qaeda spinoff group in North Africa.

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The CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) detector at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, undergoes winter maintenance work, in this Jan 12 file photo.

ZUMA Press / Newscom/File

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When a physicist is suspected of working with terrorists, thoughts turn to radioactive "dirty bombs" or small nuclear devices – and global alarm bells go off. But when the suspect works at the world's largest particle accelerator, the world can breathe a half-sigh of relief.

Adlène Hicheur was reportedly a French-Algerian researcher who worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). He was part of a large group running experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC). On Monday, he stood before a French judge in Paris, accused of collaborating with an Al Qaeda spinoff group in North Africa.

CERN is not the kind of laboratory that represents a terrorist's candy store, researchers say.

"There's nothing you can get at the LHC that can do any damage to anybody, except a hammer," quips Sheldon Stone, a physicist at Syracuse University in New York and member of the team running an experiment called "LHC Beauty." Mr. Hicheur worked for this experiment as a data analyst.

While the lab does use some radioactive material, the sources are common to hospitals and industry, according to a statement the lab issued after Hicheur was arrested. The lab is not involved with nuclear-energy research or nuclear weapons – activities that would be more likely to require, or produce as byproducts, highly radioactive materials.

According to officials at CERN, Hicheur hadn't been around the lab for months. The facility has been shut down since September 2008, after two magnets, which were designed to keep proton beams focused, overheated and melted.

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