French 'far-right extremist' was model employee

AFP
A house in Nant-le-Petit belonging to a Frenchman, who was arrested in Ukraine on May 21, who was allegedly planning terror attacks during the Euro 2016 championship (AFP Photo/Djiladi Djafer)
A house in Nant-le-Petit belonging to a Frenchman, who was arrested in Ukraine on May 21, who was allegedly planning terror attacks during the Euro 2016 championship (AFP Photo/Djiladi Djafer)

Nant-le-Petit (France) (AFP) - A suspected far-right French extremist who was allegedly planning to attack the Euro 2016 football championships never aroused suspicion amongst his neighbours, with his employer describing him as an "exemplary" worker.

Ukraine said Monday that it arrested the 25-year-old last month in possession of a huge arsenal of weapons.

According to Ukraine's SBU security service, he was intending to attack a mosque, a synagogue, tax offices, transport checkpoints and several other locations.

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But neighbours and acquaintances in northeastern France expressed surprise at the arrest of a man they described as "reserved" and "hardworking", who had never publicised any extremist views or activities.

The man, yet to be formally identified by French authorities, hails from the northeastern region of Meuse near the Belgian border.

He works for an agricultural cooperative, Elitest, in the small town of Brumath in the Bas-Rhin region of northeastern France.

The man's employer told AFP on Monday he was an "exemplary employee".

"We have no information on his private life," added the firm's technical director Luc Voidey.

A farmer acquaintance, Nicolas Wilt, said the suspect regularly visited Ukraine as "he told us he had a girlfriend in Ukraine and that he went to her place from time to time".

"A guy with no back story," he added.

Another work acquaintance recalled a tall, "blond guy with blue eyes, skinny, very very reserved and very shy."

A police source indicated that a t-shirt bearing the motif of an extreme rightwing group had been seized during a search in the tiny village of Nant-le-Petit, where the man regularly stayed with his grandfather.

But the village mayor Dominique Pensalfini-Demorise said locals were "astounded" at the news.

"This doesn't fit with the person we knew," she said.

"Everybody found him very pleasant. He was very decent towards the neighbours and me -- very intelligent and kind, ready to be helpful."

- 'Never talked politics' -

Jean-Jacques Renck, a neighbour of the man's grandfather, said the suspect wanted to set up in Ukraine and was not outwardly political.

"His dream was to settle down in Ukraine, build a farm there and make use of his talents. He never talked politics with me."

The neighbour added that the "well spoken" suspect was "very hard working", and sometimes helped him with chores.

Another neighbour, Catherine Lenquette, said he had been to visit a farm in the United States and then "one in Ukraine two or three years ago".

"He never talked politics, not even after (last year's Paris) attacks," added Lenquette.

Ukrainian authorities say the man was arrested on the border with Poland in possession of 125 kilogrammes (275 pounds) of TNT and 100 detonators and five Kalashnikov assault rifles.

He also had grenade launchers and some 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

Ukraine's secret service said it had become aware in December of the arrival of a French national who had begun "to establish contacts with a number of representatives in the (pro-Russian separatist) east".

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