Ukraine says French man planned 15 attacks on Euro 2016 tournament
Ukranian security authorities say man had weapons and explosives including rocket launchers in vehicle
Vasily Gritsak, the head of Ukraine’s SBU security agency, said the unnamed 25-year-old intended to target a mosque, a synagogue, transport infrastructure, state companies and venues for Euro 2016, which starts on Friday.
There was no immediate response from the French or other European security services, and the revelations come at a time when Ukraine’s authorities are under pressure to show greater effectiveness to their western allies.
“The Frenchman spoke negatively about his government’s actions, mass immigration, the spread of Islam and globalisation, and also talked about plans to carry out several terrorist attacks,” Mr Gritsak told reporters in Kiev.
European security services are on high alert ahead of Euro 2016, after Islamist militants killed 130 people in Paris last November and suicide bombers killed 32 people at Belgium’s main international airport and on the Brussels metro in March.
As part of a sting operation, SBU agents gave the Frenchman deactivated weapons before arresting him as he tried to drive them across the Ukrainian-Polish border.
Mr Gritsak said the amount of weaponry the man thought he had bought revealed the scale of his plans: “With 125kg of TNT and 20 rocket-propelled grenades, you can understand what kind of damage and human casualties he could have caused.”
He also acquired five Kalashnikov automatic rifles with more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition; two anti-tank grenade launchers; 100 detonators, 20 balaclavas and other items, Mr Gritsak said.
“In December 2015, we became aware that a French citizen had come to Ukraine who, under the guise of volunteer work, had started to make contact with various representatives of armed groups in eastern Ukraine,” he explained.
Ukraine’s military has for two years been fighting Russian-backed separatist forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in a conflict that has killed some 10,000 people, injured 20,000 and driven more than 2 million from their homes.
The SBU released video footage of the Frenchman apparently loading weapons into his vehicle in a garage, and later being hauled from the car by masked agents and arrested at the border crossing; it also published photographs of the man handling and apparently testing an automatic rifle and grenade-launcher.
Mr Gritsak said the SBU had intended to release news of the arrest only after the Euro 2016 championship, but a leak of information had forced the agency’s hand.
He also said the SBU was investigating the possibility that the case could be part of a Russian effort to discredit Ukraine in international eyes.
“At a certain stage, when (the Frenchman) suggested that a Ukrainian citizen help deliver the cargo to Europe, then we were forced to consider another theory…that it could be a set-up by the Russian special services,” Mr Gritsak said.
Several times, Mr Gritsak said the plans of a “terrorist group” had been foiled, but he did not give information on whether anyone else had been arrested or was under suspicion.
Ukraine’s security services - like the rest of the beleaguered country’s authorities - are eager to prove their ability to their western allies amid a barrage of criticism over pervasive corruption, incompetence and unwillingness to reform.
“The Ukrainian security service is working with European partners to ensure that the football championship takes place peacefully and without incidents,” the SBU said in a statement.