A police manhunt was underway in Burgundy on Sunday for two men who attacked a horse as French domestic intelligence sounded the alarm over an ‘increasingly sordid’ spate of killings of the farmyard animals.
Some 40 police officers with sniffer dogs and backed up by a helicopter combed fields in the wine-growing Côte d’Or region after intruders broke into a pasture and injured a horse in Losne. Road checks were installed.
“Two men are wanted,” confirmed the local gendarmerie in Beaune. “A horse was injured on its side. A very deep wound, according to the veterinary examination,” said the Dijon prosecutor.
The hunt came as the Val-d’Oise département, outside Paris, recorded its first attacks on Saturday, in which two mares were slashed and one had its genitals mutilated and sewn together.
Another horse was found dead after an apparent attack in the Cantal, central France, the same day.
France has been appalled at the number of killings and brutal mutilations of horses in recent months and psychosis has set in among owners, who police have urged to remain vigilant but not to try and take on any assailants.
According to a leaked note by domestic intelligence, SCRT, the “unprecedented” number of deaths had surpassed the 30 mark.
Two-thirds of the attacks involved hacking off an ear.
The note, published in Le Parisien, pointed out that almost all of the macabre attacks had taken place in the northern half of France between Charente-Maritime and l’Ain département.
Two of the most recent deaths involved poisoning, it found.
While intelligence agents were unable to pinpoint precise motives, they suggested they could be anything from “satanic rituals” to “dares between several individuals” or even “sexual and morbid frustration”.
Another factor could be "revenge in the horse world," it suggested, pointing out that the assailants' "way of operating suggests detailed knowledge of horses". They also know "how to use a large knife" and appear to be "individuals of a certain physical strength”.
It warned that “recent discoveries are increasingly sordid” and that those behind it had no compunction about “violating taboos”.
French police last week issued an identikit picture of a suspect wanted over the attacks in which horses and ponies have been found eviscerated and with an ear cut off.
There was hope for a breakthrough in the investigation after the owner of an animal refuge drove off two men who slashed a horse and two ponies in Burgundy.
A facial image of one of them, based on a description by the refuge owner, Nicolas Demajean, was broadcast on national television.
Mr Demajean said the attackers “spoke words in a language I couldn’t understand. I think it must be from eastern Europe.”
However, little headway has been made since.
A small wooden sculpture believed to be a “voodoo doll” was found at the site of one of the attacks. One theory is that the killers are carrying out satanic rituals, systematically slicing off horses’ ears and genitals, and gouging their eyes.
Police believe groups are involved because of the difficulty of restraining a terrified horse.
The intelligence report suggested copycat killings were likely given the range of attacks.