One of the biggest far-right terrorist campaigns to hit the UK came not from the English Defence League or British National Party, but the machinations of a Ukrainian student. However, his hatred of the 'non-white' and Muslims is a thread he shares with both groups.
Pavlo Lapshyn's brilliance in engineering had earned him work experience with Delcam (a specialist software firm in Birmingham). Yet, five days later, he murdered 82-year-old grandfather Mohammed Saleem. Lapshyn's blade sunk deeper than flesh as an entire community tried to make sense of this heinous crime. Few would have predicated what he planned next.
Some weeks later, an equally senseless murder took place, that of Fusilier Lee Rigby. As a result, community relations strained as the language of Islamophobia manifested itself in the attempted arsons of mosques and Islamic centres. Mosques were also vandalised in lesser known areas of Dorset and Wales. Online and offline harassment spiked as did racist graffiti.
That fear only increased further when Lapshyn left a bomb disguised in a child's lunchbox outside Walsall's Aisha Mosque on June 21. Nobody was hurt but it still caused an evacuation of local residents. A second device was planted near Wolverhampton Central Mosque on June 28, but police would not discover it until weeks later. One worshipper alleges that police originally treated this bomb as a car "backfiring" and did little to investigate.
Police said Lapshyn was a "competent" bomb maker and this potential was nearly realised in the car park of the Kansu Imam Mashed mosque in Tipton on July 12. He aimed to target worshippers as they arrived for Friday prayers. However, Ramadan meant these prayers were pushed back by an hour. This stroke of luck potentially saved hundreds of lives as this bomb was loaded with 600-grams of nails (25mm long).
The gap between the Tipton and Wolverhampton bombs suggests that Lapshyn re-configured his bomb designs with products brought online and in supermarkets. When police finally arrested him, they found more evidence that his bombing campaign would have continued.
Thanks to academic Anton Shekhovtsov, we are able to learn more about Lapshyn's intense racism and online 'neo-Nazification'. For example, he posted a poem by Nikola Korolyov, the founder of the Russian neo-Nazi "SPAS" organisation, before later deleting it. He also listed "The Hammer of National Socialism" as an interest. Police believe he was acting as a lone wolf as they found no links to extremist groups in the UK or his native Ukraine.
This online 'neo-Nazification' has found its way into another British court as a 17-year-old is accused of plotting to blow up a mosque and several other targets. Next year, Ian Forman will stand trial accused of making improvised explosives and plotting to blow up mosques and Islamic centres (although there is no strong evidence linking him to the far-right). Both had been charged with terrorism-related offences. The last major conviction for neo-Nazi terrorism in the UK was in 2010.
Lapshyn's guilty-pleas are an indication that the threat of far-right terrorism remains real. Fundamentalists who hide behind their selective interpretations of Islam do not have the monopoly on terrorism in Europe or the United States. Prior to the Boston bombings, one study found Islamic terrorists had domestically only killed 33 people since 9/11. Moreover, between 1980 and 2005, the FBI reported that Muslims were only responsible for 6 per cent of domestic terrorism. Few remember the Texan white supremacists who had more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition and a sodium-cyanide bomb (capable of killing thousands).
In Europe, the latest evidence suggests that right-wing extremists have access to large quantities of weapons and ammunition, but no specific plots have been unearthed on the scale of Anders Breivik, despite Islamophobia rising in certain countries. In 2012, most attacks were linked to separatist terrorism in France and Spain.
A myopic view that frames terrorism as solely 'Islamic' blinds us to other potential threats. Whilst no society should live in fear of terrorism, the genuine fear felt by many Muslims in the wake of these events demonstrates an insincerity by government to tackle Islamophobia.
The debate around terrorism needs to evolve beyond its current framework. Rather than placation, the government should invest more time in publicly condemning these far-right acts.
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