After the recent mosque attacks on the Aisha mosque in Walsall, the Kanzul Iman Central Jamia Mosque in Tipton and the Wolverhampton Central mosque, two men of Ukrainian origin have been detained by West Midlands Police. Just a day ago, West Midlands police found the seat of an explosion that had taken place on the 28th of June with debris that was associated with it. The explosion was found to have taken place in the grounds of the Wolverhampton Central Mosque.
The two men who were arrested were aged 22 and 25 and are Ukrainian engineering students who were work placements at a high technology computer company. The company, Delcam, produces a range of software for the aerospace industry, for use in the production of health-care and maxillofacial products.
The Independent quoted a statement from the Chief Executive, Clive Martell, who stated that the men were engineering students from Eastern Europe and he goes onto quote that the two students were in the UK for their work placement for a short period of time. They had been, according to him, in the UK for 2-4 months.
So, a picture starts to emerge of the two Ukrainians, one of whom was arrested today by West Midlands police for the murder of Mohammed Saleem, a 75 year old grandfather who was murdered in Green Lane, Small Heath in Birmingham. He was returning from prayers at his local mosque when he was set up on and brutally murdered. Both Ukrainians have been held under anti-Terrorism powers and the 25 year old has been held on the basis of a further act of terrorism.
What seems to be developing is a picture of 2 people who met during their placement at Delcam. This was confirmed by Clive Martell, the Chief Executive of Delcam, who told the Independent that the two had met whilst on their placement in the company. The two arrested individuals had therefore only struck up a friendship over an 8 week period.
What is also interesting to note is that within 12-18 hours of the arrest of the two, West Midlands police officers raced to Wolverhampton Central mosque and discovered the remnants of an explosion within the grounds of the mosque. Yet, the real clue may rest in the country of origin of the two individuals. Both men are from Ukraine, a country where the Far Right party, Svoboda (also known as the Freedom Party – previously called the Social National Party of Ukraine), has been touted by mainstream parties who have needed their support and who without any strategy to counter the Far Right, have provided legitimacy to this extreme political group. To moderate parties in Ukraine, Svoboda is xenophobic, radical, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-democratic and is seen as a Far Right extreme political group. Svoboda has also affiliated itself to the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM) and openly co-operated with a paramilitary group called the Patriots of Ukraine.
The fore-runner of Svoboda, the Social National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), had previously attempted to forge alliances with nationalist groups across Europe. For example, on the 21st of May 2000, Jean Marie Le Pen attended Lviv and attended the Sixth Congress of SNPU. At the SNPU’s ninth congress in 2004, on the advice of France’s Front National, the Party changed its name to Svoboda and went onto see a number of local electoral successes which put it into the political frame in Ukraine as an up and coming political party.
Analysts have suggested that by 2050, Ukraine will have lost up to 40% of its population due to a stagnant economic market, disastrous financial interventions by the Government, political changes that have led to the imprisonment of liberal and centrist political activists and with heavy governmental attempts to curtail free speech. These conditions have provided a fertile environment for the Far Right to grow within as many have looked to alternatives to the status quo.
What is also interesting to note is that Svoboda’s ideology has been influenced by external forces and through the use of language around demographics. Indeed, mainstream social scientists have inadvertently supported and developed an ideology within Svoboda that the indigenous population is under a cultural, social, religious and demographic threat by migrants from Asia and Africa. These conversations around demographics have been a major driver in shaping ideologies within Svoboda and has seen a rise in xenophobic language from supporters of the group. To Svoboda, Ukraine is an ethnic monolith and any groups that are seen to be ‘foreign’ are fair game to be targeted. With this in mind, Muslims, Africans, Romany communities and Jews are all seen as external to the nation, irrespective of whether they have been born or lived for many generations in Ukraine.
More worrying is the youth penetration of Svoboda and the growing rank of young people who see this political group as being relevant to their lives. Svoboda has developed clever and youth friendly promotional programmes of Far Right activism to youth groups in country. It has also used specific national days to launch campaigns to attract younger audiences. A once adolescent skinhead movement attached to this group has now become an ultra-right subculture which has become a magnet for a number of street based and violent Far Right groups. This has also seeped into football movements which have seen anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist comments made towards players and supporters in stadia.
At this time, some disturbing questions have to be raised. For example:
– If these two individuals targeted Muslim institutions, were they influenced by Svoboda in Ukraine? Both individuals are placements in the UK from the country and were only here for 4 months.
– How much influence did local UK based Far Right groups have – if any? Were these two individuals influenced by groups like the English Defence League in the short time that they have been in the UK?
These questions no doubt will be answered in the coming days and weeks. At this moment though, West Midlands Police deserve our thanks for managing EDL demonstrations and for ensuring that investigations continue at a swift pace. This is key to maintaining public and community confidence.