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26 Apr, 2024 21:07

UK accuses alleged arsonist of working for Russia

Charges in London warehouse fire are the first under the new National Security Act
UK accuses alleged arsonist of working for Russia

British authorities have pressed charges for the first time under the National Security Act introduced last year, accusing a Leicestershire man of organizing two arson attacks on behalf of Russian intelligence, UK media revealed on Friday.

Judge Daniel Sternberg of the Westminster Magistrates Court has also lifted reporting restrictions imposed on April 20, allowing news outlets to identify the suspects and the charges against them.

The government claims 20-year-old Dylan Earl of Elmesthorpe acted as a “conduit” for Russian intelligence and recruited men to set fire to two warehouses in east London last month.

“He was recruited online by those acting on behalf of Russia and the terrorist organization the Wagner Group to recruit others and engage in malign activity,” Prosecutor David Cawthorne told reporters. “The arson which caused a significant fire in a commercial premises was intended to send out the message that if you assist Ukraine there will be punishment to follow.”

London designated the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization last September – a month after the outfit’s head, Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, perished in a plane crash. Any evidence of Earl’s connection to Wagner or Russia has yet to be presented.

Two units of an industrial park in Leyton were damaged by fire on March 21. It took eight fire engines and 60 firefighters to put out the blaze, according to the media. Prosecutors said the fire was set deliberately, using gasoline as an accelerant.

While the charging documents did not specify who owned the warehouses that burned up, company records identified them as Oddisey and Meest UK, parcel delivery services owned by British-Ukrainian businessman Mikhail Prikhodko and his wife Jelena Boikova.

“This is a highly significant moment and investigation for us,” said Commander Dominic Murphy, the head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command, noting that it was “the first time that we have arrested, and now charged anyone using the powers and legislation brought in under the National Security Act.”

In addition to Dylan Earl, the NSA was invoked against Jake Reeves, 22, of Croydon, for allegedly “agreeing to accept a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service.” 

Reeves was also charged with aggravated arson, along with Paul English, 60, of Roehampton and Nii Kojo Mensah, 21, of Thornton Heath.

The fifth defendant in the case was identified as 22-year-old Dmitrijus Paulauska, a friend of Reeves from Croydon, who was charged with having information about terrorist acts but not reporting it to the authorities. 

All five men are scheduled to appear for a hearing at the Old Bailey on May 10. They have not yet entered any pleas in the case. According to Murphy, the investigation “remains ongoing.”