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U.K. man charged with "Russia-backed arson" attack on Ukraine-linked site in London

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London — A 20-year-old British man has been charged with masterminding an arson plot against a Ukrainian-linked target in London for the benefit of the Russian state, prosecutors said on Friday. 

"Included in the alleged activity was involvement in the planning of an arson attack on a Ukrainian-linked commercial property in March 2024," the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement.

Court documents allege that suspect Dylan Earl, from Leicestershire in central England, was connected to the proscribed terrorist group the Wagner Group, the U.K.'s domestic Press Association news agency reported.

He is accused of organizing and paying for an arson attack on two units on an industrial estate in Leyton, east London, on March 20, which required 60 firefighters to bring under control. A photo posted on social media by the London Fire Brigade on the day showed several storage or warehouse units with fire damage. 

The fire service said in a statement that three units sustained damage in the blaze, which was reported just before midnight and took more than four hours to get under control. It added that the cause of the fire was being investigated at the time by both the fire brigade and the London police.

The alleged target of the plot is referred to as "Mr X" in the charges.

The CPS, which brings prosecutions in England and Wales, said two other men — Paul English, 60, and Nii Mensah, 21 — were also charged with aggravated arson in connection with the case.

A third, Jake Reeves, 22, had been charged with agreeing to accept a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service as well as aggravated arson.

A fifth man, Dmitrijus Paulauska, 22, has been charged with having information about terrorist acts, the CPS added.

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron said: "While we must let the judicial process run its course, I am deeply concerned by allegations of British nationals carrying out criminal activity on U.K. soil to benefit the Russian state.

"We will use the full weight of the criminal justice system to hold anyone found guilty of crimes linked to foreign interference to account," he wrote on the social media platform X.

Dominic Murphy, head of the Metropolitan Police in London's Counter Terrorism Command which is leading the investigation, said: "This is a highly significant moment and investigation for us.

"Not only are the charges that have been authorized by the CPS extremely serious, but it is also the first time that we have arrested, and now charged anyone using the powers and legislation brought in under the National Security Act."

The National Security Act 2023 came into effect in December last year, and was designed to respond to "the threat of hostile activity from states targeting the U.K.'s democracy, economy, and values," the government said at the time.

All five suspects are due to appear at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, London, on May 10.

The charges come amid high tension between Russia and the West more than two years after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine

German authorities said a week earlier that they had arrested two people suspected of spying for Russia, both of them identified as German-Russian nationals. They stand accused of scouting targets for potential attacks in Germany — including U.S. military facilities in the country.

A photo provided by the London Metropolitan Police on Sept. 5, 2018, shows two Russian nationals, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who were charged with the attempted murder of ex-spy Sergei Skripal using the deadly nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, England. Handout

Relations between Britain and Russia have been sour for years, having dipped precipitously in 2018 when two Russian spies attempted to assassinate former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury in a high-profile assassination attempt using the extremely deadly nerve agent Novichok. While the attempt was unsuccessful, one local woman who happened to come into contact with the bottle holding the nerve agent was killed.

Both of the men accused in that attack managed to flee Britain before the charges were filed. 

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