A man has been arrested after a spate of gruesome animal mutilations across rural France.
Police said earlier on Monday that two suspects had escaped a manhunt launched after a horse owner near Dijon raised the alarm, and that their trail had gone cold.
At least 30 attacks have been reported across the country since February.
The motive for the attacks is not known: explanations include everything from rituals from a satanic cult to a sick social media “challenge.”
Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie described the injuries, saying “Ears are cut off, eyes removed, an animal is emptied of its blood …”
He said that the attackers often chopped off an ear as some sort of sick trophy. In some cases the animals’ genitals were removed.
He added: “All means are in motion to end this terror.”
“All branches of the state are mobilising to get justice done,” he said while visiting the scene of one recent attack.”There is clearly a professionalism, people acting with a certain level of technique.”
Two of the attackers were confronted by Nicolas Demajean, who was alerted to the intruders’ presence by sounds of distress being made by pigs at his animal refuge, Ranch of Hope.
M. Demajean was attacked by one of the intruders, and was left with superficial knife wounds. “I used to have confidence putting my horses out to pasture. Today, I have fear in my gut,” he told regional TV station France 3.
“We do not understand the motivation,” a spokesperson from Paris police told the Reuters news agency. “Is it a satanic rite, insurance fraud, some macabre trophy hunt, or an Internet challenge? We don’t know. It is very traumatising.”
The attacks have taken place right across France, from the mountainous Jura region in the east to the Atlantic coast, many this summer, according to Denormandie.
Serge Lecomte, president of the French Equestrian Federation, warned that the animal cruelty could lead to to attacks on humans: ”It is cruel savagery of a kind we have rarely seen before,” he said. “Is it a cult? Cruelty towards animals is the precursor to cruelty towards humans”.