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CCTV footage of Lapshyn carrying a bomb to a mosque.

Lapshyn's relative inexperience with explosive devices

and the timely intervention of West Midlands Police probably saved many lives. CC West Midlands Police
Published on openDemocracy (
The transnational lone-wolf terrorist
Anton Shekhovtsov [1] 12 November 2013
When Ukrainian postgraduate Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced for racially-motivated murder and
terrorism in the West Midlands, the response from Ukrainian media was to distort facts; from
authorities to remain silent; and from British journalists to pin blame on UK society. These
approaches obscure the uniqueness of the case, says Anton Shekhovtsov
On 25 October, 25-year-old Ukrainian postgraduate student Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced [9] to
life imprisonment with a minimum term of 40 years for a series of terrorist acts carried out in the West Midlands, UK. In Ukraine,
Lapshyns case provoked a critical response in the media, revealing a distressing, if not unusual aversion to national
soul-searching. In Britain, some of the significance of the case was obscured by the irresistible urge to interpret it in terms of
British society. What is currently missing in the accounts of Lapshyns terror campaign is an understanding of its uniqueness.
Lapshyn came to the UK from the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, hometown of now jailed former Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko, having been awarded a temporary work placement at the Birmingham-based Delcam software company. He arrived
on 24 April 2013. Five days later he murdered Mohammed Saleem (82). In J une-J uly, he detonated three home-made bombs near
mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton. Fortunately, his lack of experience in making explosive devices meant there was
no physical damage to anyone. However, in the course of his bombing campaign he was able to improve his skills and make his
devices more dangerous. Only the timely intervention of the West Midlands police, who identified and arrested Lapshyn on 18
J uly, prevented him from continuing with his deadly mission.
After his arrest, Lapshyn willingly cooperated with the police. He made no secret of the fact that his actions had been motivated
by racism, of his desire to to increase racial conflict and make Muslims leave our area. In his room at Delcams premises in
Small Heath (Birmingham), police recovered mobile phones he had adapted to trigger devices, chemicals and bomb-making
equipment. There were also 98 video files and 455 photographic files on his laptop showing chemicals, firearms, component parts
of explosives and images of Lapshyn manufacturing and detonating bombs, presumably in Ukraine. According to Detective Chief
Inspector Shaun Edwards from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, Lapshyn stressed he was acting alone not part of a
wider cell or influenced by any group and was keen to take credit for masterminding and carrying out the attacks. After his
arrest, Lapshyn twice rejected any legal assistance from the Embassy of Ukraine in the UK.
Denial and distortion in Ukraine
No official body in Ukraine has ever issued an official statement condemnatory, concerned or otherwise relating to either the
arrest or conviction of a Ukrainian citizen, who had received a life sentence for a series of terrorist acts in another country. The
Ukrainian authorities followed a longstanding pattern of sweeping the problems they consistently fail to tackle under the carpet.
President Viktor Yanukovychs regimes pompous anti-fascist campaign [10], launched in spring 2013, has proved to be no more
than a tool for smearing the political opposition and mobilising its own supporters under the banners of righteousness. At the
same time, top-ranking member of the ruling Party of Regions, Hennadiy Kernes, has been turning the blind eye to neo-Nazi gigs
featuring Ukrainian, British, German and Russian fascist bands openly advertised and held in Kharkiv, the city of which he is
Some Ukrainian media were in denial too. One of the most influential printed magazines in the country, Korrespondent, devoted
two miniscule notices (one of them was factually incorrect) informing its readers of Lapshyns arrest and, later, his pleading guilty.
The magazine had, however, previously dedicated whole pages to uncritical coverage of the extreme right Svoboda party [11],
while Korrespondents editor-in-chief Vitaliy Sych even declared Svobodas leader Oleh Tyahnybok the Person of the Year 2012.
Disturbingly and even cynically, this award was given to Tyahnybok against the background of the attacks on peaceful gay
demonstration and human rights activists [12] carried out by Svobodas members in December 2012.
However, outright denial or footnoting of Lapshyns case was the exception rather than the rule in Ukrainian media space.
Almost all major publications and TV channels commented extensively on the case, but sometimes their reports evidenced yet
another psychological defence mechanism, distortion, employed by most of Ukrainian society to evade self-analysis or
confronting uncomfortable truths.
This was especially the case in J uly, immediately after the police announced the suspects name. Ukrainian media seemed to
compete with each other in offering or communicating the most fantastic interpretations of the Lapshyn case, and conspiracy
theories abounded. Some of these originated from Lapshyns teachers and colleagues in Dnipropetrovsk. They generally described
the would-be terrorist as polite, quiet and even shy and, on the basis of this perception, came to the conclusion that Lapshyn could
not have committed those crimes and that he must have been framed. In some cases (ICTV, Komsomolskya Pravda), the
framing theme made its way into presumptuous headlines. Who exactly could have set up Lapshyn or would have been
interested in doing so was rarely indicated, but Obozrevatel readily conveyed [13] [in Russian] a hint made by Lapshyns
academic supervisor, Viktor Laskin, that the mastermind behind the whole story could have been the British police: They found a
quiet, flabby foreigner and pinned someone elses crimes on him. The relatively new, but already increasingly popular Vesti
newspaper took a different conspiratorial angle when it cited [14] [in Russian] Oleksandr Skipalsky, a former deputy head of the
Security Service of Ukraine. Obviously playing the domestic card, Skipalsky said that Lapshyn had been well paid for carrying
out the acts of terror: These are people who oppose Ukraines integration into Europe. They may be members of our parliament.
Even in October, after Lapshyn had pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey, conspiracy theories continued to play their part in
misinforming the Ukrainian audience. The Kiev Times suggested [15] [in Russian] that it was highly disadvantageous for the
English security services to acknowledge the growth of its own radical groupings, so they decided to create the impression that
racist and nationalist sentiments were being planted from outside and, in particular, from former Soviet states. In its turn, the 1+1
TV channel put forward [16] [in Russian] an even more ridiculous version saying that, by jailing Lapshyn, another country [i.e.
Britain] was keeping a promising scientist from Ukraine.
But the prosecution presented sufficient credible evidence and Lapshyn was sentenced to life imprisonment. Then some Ukrainian
media, Ukrayinska Pravda or The Insider for instance, tried implicitly to dissociate Lapshyns nationality from the theme of
terrorism, by putting Ukrainian terrorist in quotation marks in their headlines. Neither Ukrayinska Pravda nor The Insider had
previously had any problems referring without cunning quotation marks to the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik or unnamed
Chechen terrorists.
In general, Ukrainian mainstream media reacted to Lapshyns case in three distinct but often intertwined ways: (1) ignoring the
case altogether or coldly reporting events unfolding in the British courts; (2) distorting the case by bombarding the audience with
conspiracy theories and the victimisation of Ukrainians and Ukraine; and (3) implicitly dissociating Ukraine from the subject of
right-wing terrorism.
Almost no Ukrainian publication or TV channel has tried to address the problem of racism in Ukrainian society. Very few
journalists seemed interested in critically exploring Lapshyns social networking website and the groups to which he subscribed.
The results of such an exploration are very interesting. For example, one particular group, the openly neo-Nazi WotanJ ugend
Info, has over 20,000 subscribers: 2,080 from Ukraine, of which 81 are from Lapshyns home town, Dnipropetrovsk. In 2012,
Ukrainian NGOs (Diversity Initiative, No Borders, Euro-Asian J ewish Congress and others) registered [17] 17 verified racist
attacks in Ukraine on migrants from Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, Guinea, Cameroon and Sierra-Leone, as well as six Ukrainian
citizens of Crimean Tatar and Jewish origin. Fortunately none of the victims died.
WotanJugend, the Russian language neo-Nazi group frequented by Lapshyn, has over 20,000 followers.
(Screenshot via
The causes of racist violence in Ukraine and sources of racist sentiments in the Ukrainian society are complex and cannot be
linked to one particular phenomenon. However, some Ukrainian media, irrespective of whether they openly or covertly support
Yanukovychs regime or the opposition to it, are complicit in normalising right-wing extremism in the country by ignoring,
denying or under-reporting racist incidents. At times one has the impression that the extreme right has infiltrated some mainstream
Ukrainian media. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that online newspaper Levy Bereg recently engaged a neo-Nazi activist
to write a slanderous expert opinion [18] [in Ukrainian] on Ukrainian football, or that The Insider uncritically republishes [19]
[in Ukrainian] materials from WotanJ ugend Info?
Towards transnational right-wing terrorism?
The British media and experts examined the Lapshyn case in terms of British right-wing extremism, which frequently resulted in
misunderstandings. Islamophobia, currently an inherent feature of British extreme right movements such as the English Defence
League [20] was one of these erroneous prisms. Hatred of Muslims can sometimes also be found in Ukrainian far right culture, but
it is a minor element. The insignificance of Islamophobia in theUkrainian extreme right can partly be explained by the fact that the
Muslim population in the country constitutes less than 1% of the whole population. Ukrainian Muslims are largely Tatars living in
the Crimea, which is considered their native land. While hatecrimes against Crimean Tatars do take place, the motivation for
violent attacks or vandalism is more likely to be anti-Tatar sentiments than Islamophobia.
It was Islamophobia, however, that the British media tended to highlight when reporting the Lapshyn case. BBC, Channel 4 and
Sky News described him as a mosque bomber, but while this is technically correct, the emphasis on the Muslim nature of his
targets is misleading. Lapshyn himself admitted that he murdered Saleem out of racial hatred, while the three mosques as
locations for planting the bombs were ideal because there was little risk of white people suffering. I did it because they are not
white, and I am white. If Lapshyn ever hated Islam (unlikely, because his grandmother was Muslim), than he hated it in the
racialised form.
This distinction between white supremacism and Islamophobia may appear overnice, but the prisms used to analyse Lapshyns
case by some British media and, even more, the distortions in the Ukrainian media obscure the uniqueness of his case, which
is important for all future studies of right-wing terrorism.
This uniqueness is best demonstrated in comparison with two perhaps the most infamous lone-wolf right-wing terrorists,
David Copeland [21] (UK) and Anders Breivik (Norway). Like Lapshyn, they acted alone, so their activities were difficult to
trace. However, both of them had a history of membership in far right organisations and groups: Copeland was a member of the
British National Party and then the National Socialist Movement, while Breivik was a member of the Progress Party (but left it).
Lapshyn, by contrast, never belonged to any movement or group.
Most importantly, however, Lapshyns violent campaign represents a genuine case of transnational right-wing terrorism. On the
one hand, the process of his radicalisation in the direction of white supremacism is not entirely clear (we do not know when
exactly he became a racist). On the other hand, his social networking website and over evidence suggest that he was radicalised by
reading Russian texts praising American, Russian and German right-wing terrorists; listening to Russian and German White
Power music; and playing an Ethnic Cleansing videogame developed by the American neo-Nazi National Alliance. The general
indifference of Ukrainian society to racism either failed to stop, or even contributed to, the strengthening of his radicalisation. It
was not the ethnic composition of the Ukrainian population (more than 95% of whom are white) that prompted him to engage in
terrorist activities against the non-white, but Small Heath, where, according to 2001 estimates [22], whites constitute 25% of the
population, was something very different.
Copelands vision was focused on Britain and Breiviks on Europe; both of them acted in their own countries; Lapshyns views
were shaped by truly global white supremacism, and he would most probably have been willing to carry out acts of terror against
non-whites in any country where he would perceive threats to his 'own race'. Thus, Lapshyns 2013 terror campaign in Britain may
be termed the first instance of transnational lone-wolf right-wing terrorism. It is unlikely to become a trend, but that will not make
it any easier to prevent.
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