Ukraine leaves France guessing about Euro terror plot

Ukraine has raised a number of questions over its arrest of a Frenchman who was allegedly plotting to attack the Euro 2016 football championship opening this week in his home country.

AFP| Last Updated: Jun 07, 2016, 21:39 PM IST
Ukraine leaves France guessing about Euro terror plot

Kiev: Ukraine has raised a number of questions over its arrest of a Frenchman who was allegedly plotting to attack the Euro 2016 football championship opening this week in his home country.

Ukraine`s SBU security service said on Monday that the apparent far-right extremist was found with a huge weapons cache and intended to stage 15 strikes against mosques and synagogues and other targets before and during the month-long event.

But many questions remain. The SBU said the 25-year-old -- identified by the French media as Gregoire Moutaux, a worker for an agricultural cooperative inseminating cows -- had entered Ukraine in December and acquired his arsenal in the war-scarred east.

But video footage of him and an accomplice loading a huge cache of arms that included 125 kilos (275 pounds) of weapons-grade explosives was filmed from every angle and suggested that Ukraine had been tracking the man for some time.

His arrest on May 21 while he was trying to cross into Poland, was also caught on film.

Some analysts found the entire sequence suspicious and questioned whether the SBU had staged the entire event in order to raise its profile. SBU chief Vasyl Grytsak said the Frenchman had also acquired 20 balaclavas -- suggesting he intended to carry out the strikes with other accomplices.

But Grytsak provided no answers on why only the Frenchman had been confirmed to have been arrested in a case that would necessarily have involved a large terror cell in France.

It also remained unclear where the man is being held and whether the investigation has been completed.

Grytsak said the suspect had requested the help of a Ukrainian national to carry his arsenal haul into France.

SBU footage shows the Frenchman loading long guns and other ammunition into a van with the help of an unidentified accomplice that media reports said might be the Ukrainian mentioned by Grytsak.

An SBU spokeswoman contacted by AFP said the service would disclose no new details about the second man for now.

"We may talk about it in the future," Olena Gitlyanska said in a brief comment.The fact that anti-terrorist prosecutors in France have not been called in for the case also suggests authorities do not believe he posed an imminent threat to the hundreds of thousands of football fans pouring into the country from across Europe and beyond.

Ukraine is keen to join the European Union and views countries such as France as important allies in its quest to pull permanently out of Russia`s orbit.

But Grytsak`s comments suggest the French were never informed of the possibility of a major attack striking stadiums and fan zones that will be protected by at least 90,000 security personnel.

A French security source told AFP that officials were in fact first tipped off about the suspect by Polish border guards and were still waiting for more details from Kiev.

The French authorities have made no official comment.

The SBU chief said he had wanted to avoid sowing panic and had planned to go public with the information only after the 24-team competition was over on July 10.

But Grytsak said French media reports about the suspect published at the weekend had forced him to speak to the press.

"Since these leaks did not come from the (Ukrainian) secret service or the SBU, we simply had to release this information in order to avoid being asked why we had remained silent," he said.