By Geoff Brumfiel and Declan Butler
The arrest by French police last Thursday of a particle physicist on allegations that he has links with Al Qaida has generated some potentially misleading statements and headlines.
Although French police have not officially released a name, the suspect is widely reported to be Adlène Hicheur, a 32-year-old physicist from the Swiss Federal Technical Institute de Lausanne (EPFL), who since 2003 had worked at LHC beauty (LHCb), one of four major particle experiments at CERN. According to French law Hicheur will be charged later today.
But wait? Did we hear the word “nuclear” and “al-Qaeda”? Cue the press. Coverage has been wide and varied, but for the best of the best, you have to the UK:
He’s the “AL QAEDA–LINK NUCLEAR EXPERT,“ according to the Daily Express .
Well from what we can see, he appeared to specialize in the alignment of particle detectors and the complex theoretical physics surrounding the B-quark. That makes him kind of a subatomic expert, really.
The Daily Mail threw nuclear fusion into the mix, saying that “MI5 had been warned that the suspects are outstanding scientists who had been honing their techniques in nuclear fusion across the world.”
Again, we’re a bit perplexed. Surely if al-Qaeda wanted to “hone their techniques” in nuclear fusion they could have sent their “nuclear expert” to ITER, the giant fusion experiment in the South of France.
But the prize goes to the Express, which boldly belted out the headline: AL-QAEDA SCIENTIST HELD AT NUCLEAR BASE
That makes CERN sound like some sort of criminal lair located beneath Antarctica (he wasn’t arrested at CERN, by the way).
Honorable mention to the Daily Star for just running a picture of Tom Hanks and bigging up the Angels and Demons reference.
In a weird sort of way, that could be the most accurate angle on the story—LHCb is hoping to understand the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the Universe. But they’re not, so far as we’re aware, trying to use this knowledge to destroy the Vatican.