On September 26, at Coleraine Youth Court, a teenage defendant who had purchased a submachine-gun on the darknet received a new charge relating to a document that had been on his computer at the time of his arrest. In April, the prosecutor explained, the boy—a 14-year-old at the time—had downloaded a manual on producing erythritol tetranitrate. And in combination with the weapon and ammunition, the explosive “how-to” guide led to the addition of a terrorism charge.
The teenager had only recently been in front of a judge at the Coleraine Youth Court for a change in the terms of his house arrest. After his initial arrest in early 2017, the teenager was placed on house arrest during the case. He recently needed to access a computer to complete his GCSE exams. And he needed court permission to do so. After leaving court with the gift of heavily restricted computer access, being summoned back to court for a terrorism charge likely never crossed the suspect’s mind.
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Early this year in part of a “proactive” policing operation, one officer went undercover on the darknet to sell firearms to unsuspecting firearm buyers. The suspect, 14 at the time, found the undercover police officer. She had posed as a seller of firearms and ammunition. And by coincidence, she had the Russian submachine gun that he had wanted.
For the low price of $185, the undercover officer agreed to sell the teenager 100 rounds of ammunition and the firearm. None of this transpired without the officer befriending the defendant. He eventually trusted her and explained that he had planned to “intimidate a third party.” When the day came, the excited 14-year-old skipped school to meet the darknet firearms dealer who willingly agreed to sell an activated $300-$500 submachine gun and ammunition for only $185.
The story proceeded, from that point onwards, as expected. She arrested him. He gave excuses. He claimed that he had purchased the gun for his “Jamaican friend.” Investigators ruled out the Jamaican friend angle at once; they checked his Facebook friends for a Jamaican character who fit the suspect’s description. None existed, the prosecution reported.
So, instead of only catching the charge that stemmed from the attempted purchase of an illegal weapon, officials also hit the teenager with possession of the gun and ammunition will intent to damage. As the investigation unfolded, the case generated “volumes of paper” that ultimately led to a new charge.
The suspect had, in his possession, a file that only someone committing or preparing to commit an act of terror would own. The file was titled “Eth.txt” and contained a guide on manufacturing erythritol tetranitrate, an explosive with similar properties to the military explosive PETN.