A Ukrainian man charged with the murder of a Muslim pensioner and with planting explosives at three mosques in England has been described by people in his hometown as a quiet, diligent student who dabbled in science experiments at home.
Pavlo Lapshyn, a 25-year-old postgraduate student from the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk, appeared via prison videolink at London's Old Bailey Court on July 25 after being charged this week under terrorism laws with the murder of 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham in April.
Lapshyn was also charged in relation to explosions at three mosques in the English towns of Walsall, Tipton, and Wolverhampton in June and July. He was arrested on July 18.
The explosions came at a time of heightened tensions in Britain following the May killing of soldier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death on a street in London by suspected Islamic extremists.
RFE/RL talked to people in Dnipropetrovsk who knew Lapshyn before he moved to an inner-city area of Birmingham in April as part of a work placement with Delcam, a supplier of advanced computer software for the manufacturing industry.
Lapshyn, who studies at the National Metallurgical Academy of Ukraine, was among students awarded such placements at a ceremony at the Kyiv residence of then-U.K. Ambassador Leigh Turner.
Lapshyn's teacher and research adviser, Viktor Laskin, described him as quiet and helpful.
"I would describe him as a modest, quiet, shy boy, a mousy person. He used to help his classmates who had problems with their studies," Laskin says. "Our first reaction was that there might have been some mistake, that [Pavlo] couldn't have done it."
The university has declined to comment on Lapshyn's case. His father has also declined to give statements to the media related to his son's case.
Science Experiment Gone Awry
Diana, one of Lapshyn's former neighbors in Dnipropetrovsk, remembers him as an ordinary guy from a reputable family. According to accounts by neighbors, the family moved away several years ago.
"Generally, the family is respectable. His father is a college professor, his mother is a very intelligent person as well. So, generally, everything was normal about him. I haven't observed anything bad," she says. "He's been living and growing up here. He's an average guy, just average."
However, one incident sticks in Diana's mind from three years ago.
"The police came... His father works at a chemistry institute and, as far as I understand, he studied chemistry-related subjects there," she recalls. "So [Lapshyn] used to do those things at home, but somehow it didn't work once, the door was blown out, and I don't know how, but no one was injured. So [the police] took him away, but [he was] released later."
Oleksiy Sherbatov, a spokesman for the Dnipropetrovsk regional police, also recalls the incident, which he says damaged several windows and an interior wall. According to Sherbatov, Lapshyn described the explosion as an experiment with a "scientific purpose."
Sherbatov says that following an investigation, no criminal charges were brought, but Lapshyn was fined.
"Because there were no victims and Lapshyn himself was unhurt, no criminal charges were filed against him," he says.
Sherbatov also says that Interpol filed a request for information to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry and the Interpol bureau in Dnipropetrovsk sent them the information they requested.
The British authorities have accused Lapshyn of purchasing items such as batteries, a lunch bag, a clock, and a container in order to construct an explosive device. Other charges include buying chemicals online for an explosive device, doing online research for possible locations to plant these devices, and altering mobile phones to use as detonators.
Detectives from Birmingham traveled to Ukraine this week as part of their investigation into Lapshyn's background.
Written by Deana Kjuka based on reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service