This week, Pavlo Lapshyn, a 25-year-old doctoral student from Ukraine, pleaded guilty to the murder of 82-year-old Muslim Mohammed Saleem and plotting to cause explosions near mosques in the West Midlands in June and July.
The portrait of Lapshyn that has emerged over the past few days is of a very isolated, somewhat socially inadequate individual. A postgraduate student at the National Metallurgical Academy of Ukraine, Lapshyn had come to Britain in April this year after he won a competition to visit Coventry University and do a work placement at a company called Delcam. Within days of his arrival in late April, however, he had stabbed Saleem to death as the grandfather made his way home from prayers. Over the next couple of months, he updated his social profile with some far-right website links and proceeded to construct a few low-level explosives. These he was to leave near three mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton.
Despite the hyperbolic headlines - ‘Lapshyn’s three-month terror campaign’; ‘Pavlo Lapshyn’s 90 days of terror’ - Saleem was the only person to be hurt by Lapshyn’s actions. The bombs in Walsall and Wolverhampton exploded, but it was only much later that police realised they were actually bombs. And although the bomb left outside a mosque in Tipton was potentially far more dangerous - packed as it was with nails and other debris - Lapshyn hadn’t reckoned on Ramadan and a change in the mosque’s prayer schedule, which meant the bomb detonated before anyone had arrived. This was to be Lapshyn’s last act as a rather incompetent terrorist as a few days later he was arrested.
Viktor Laskin, Lapshyn’s tutor at the National Metallurigical Academy, said that Lapshyn was ‘always a humble, quiet, boy’. He continued: ‘We called him the grey mouse. He was very shy and was always reading. His parents were worried that he always studied and didn’t have a private life. His father wanted him to meet girls. He was worried about it.’ His father himself, a university lecturer, was likewise at a loss to explain his son’s morphing into a would-be terrorist, noting how this rather lonely man had few contacts with friends let alone anything to do with right-wing political groups.
What becomes clear from the character sketches and familial anecdotes is that Lapshyn was not part of some extremist collective. He was not operating as a member of a terrorist cell informed by some larger organisational objective and intent on hurting Muslims or people with the ‘wrong’ skin colour. No, Lapshyn was little more than a rather sad far-right fanboy, ‘liking’ Timothy McVeigh or The Turner Diaries on his social-media page much as an ordinary teenager might ‘like’ Green Day or On the Road. He may have told West Midlands police that he wanted to start a ‘race war’, and that he was driven by ‘racial hatred’, but these were the personal statements of a desperately self-aggrandising individual, not the official proclamations of some grand underground party.