• French media reported at least 30 mutilations of horses across the country in recent months
  • French police arrested the 50-year-old suspect Monday
  • The arrest was made after the suspect’s face matched that of a sketch the cops had released

French police released a 50-year-old unemployed man who was arrested in connection with the mysterious killings of over 20 horses across the country.

French media reported at least 30 gruesome mutilations in pastures across the country in the recent months. The horses were found with their ears sliced off, eyes gouged, genitals cut, and blood drained.

Police were baffled by the killings as speculation about the horrific acts included satanic rituals, morbid trophy hunt, or a sick internet challenge. They were also weighing in on the possibility that the initial attacks might have inspired copycat killings. It is not clear why horses are being targeted.

The latest attack happened Sunday when the owner of a pasture in the south of Dijon tipped off police after he saw lamp lights in his meadow. None of his horses suffered serious injuries and the suspects ran away when police arrived, the BBC reported.

A major police operation involving 40 officers and a helicopter was launched in the Cote-d'Or region Saturday night, according to Reuters.

The 50-year-old unidentified man was arrested at his home in Alsace, in northeastern France on Monday. Police said he was wanted in connection with an attack last month in Yonne, northwest of Dijon. His face matched a suspect's sketch, which the cops had released in late August, according to the BBC. However, it was not known whether the Monday arrest was tied to the Cote-d'Or manhunt. He was later released after his alibi was confirmed.

French police have made several arrests as part of the probe into the killings, and the country’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said more officers would be deployed on night patrol in areas of concern, according to Sky News.

Police have advised horse owners and caregivers to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities. Remy Marehcal, a farrier who shoes horses in the northern town of Preux-au-Bois, told Reuters he spotted a pony with its eyes removed in July and also found two horses injured in August.

"At first, I thought it was accidental. I told myself, in a small village like this, it cannot be possible," Marehcal told the publication.

"The operation is over, now we are investigating our findings. For now there are no clues," a police spokesperson told Reuters.

Horses have reportedly died after drinking water polluted by oil in Syria's Kurdish-controlled northeastern Hasakeh province
In this representational image, a horse is seen in Syria's Kurdish-controlled northeastern Hasakeh province. Horses in the region have reportedly died after drinking water polluted by oil. AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN