France horse injured
French farrier Remy Marechal stands with his injured horse named Noel at his farm in Preux-au-Bois, France, September 7, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Paris: Two people suspected of killing and mutilating horses across France escaped a manhunt launched after a horse owner near Dijon raised the alarm, and their trail has gone cold, police said on Monday.

Police launched a major search operation in the eastern Cote-d’Or area, involving 40 officers and a helicopter, after a man spotted two people on his pasture on Saturday night, but the suspects got away.

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“The operation is over, now we are investigating our findings. For now there are no clues,” a police spokesman said.

The killings involve mutilation of the animals’ bodies, which are often found with a ear cut off, an eye gouged out and genitals cut away. No meat is ever taken from the carcasses.

From the start of the year to early August there had been about 10 cases across France, but in recent weeks, and despite intense media attention, the killings and mutilations have increased and French media have reported more than 20 killings.

Police have published a facial composite of one suspect, a male, and advised horse owners to monitor their meadows daily, not to leave halters on horses in the field and to install cameras if possible. It also called on owners to signal all suspicious behaviour near horse pastures.

Later on Monday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie will visit a horse breeder in the Oise region north of Paris where horses have been attacked. They will meet with horse breeders and investigators and will discuss plans to stop the attacks.

Police have said they have no idea what motivates the attacks and that it could be a satanic rite, a macabre trophy hunt or an internet challenge.