Up until the law enforcement shutdown of AlphaBay market in 2017, the dark web platform had grown to be a significant player in the international crime business – AlphaBay hosted buyers and sellers dealing in drugs, weapons and fraud tools.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation invested in various efforts to contain the underground cybercriminal world, with a number of landmark arrests being made. Among those arrested was a suspected terrorist who had attempted to buy weapons off the website.
It took a counter-terrorist operation to discover Mohammed Humza’s residence in London’s Watford area, including the contents of his Macbook computer that led investigators to link the suspect’s illicit dark web activity via the Tor browser.
Point to note, investigative accounts confirmed the relationship between the suspect’s internet searches and the alleged illicit activities. Among the internet search key words that were revealed read “shipping a gun to the UAE”.
Humza is reported to have been loyal to the AlphaBay market as agents could not perceive any clear evidence to suggest that he patronized other competing marketplaces like Silk Road.
Otherwise, the police found out that the suspect had expressed interest in a New York driver’s license and an electronic hotel key bypass gadget.
According to court records, 29-year-old man was operating online under the username mh.nn243 to access the AlphaBay marketplace where he tried to procure F1 fragmentation grenades and Semtex explosives.
An Undercover Operation
Humza was apprehended in November 2016 after mh.nn243 fell into a law enforcement trap that has become far too common in a number of anti darknet operations – the suspect unknowingly contacted an undercover FBI agent to order for the weapons.
Humza has since denied the court charge levelled against him, which provides that the suspect tried to possess explosives for illicit purposes between the months of July and September 2016.
An interesting twist to the case arose from the source of the username used by the suspect to browse the AlphaBay market – it is reported that the username was made up of initials belonging the suspect and his wife, Nazir Naz.
However, the accused person declined to confirm the above observation by stating that he was not the first and only individual to adopt the mh.nn243 username.
It was the October 8 account by a National Crime Agency that provided the critical evidence needed by the court to prove that Humza had indeed looked to the AlphaBay market to illicitly source for explosives.
According to Anders Ho, an officer at the National Crime Agency’s Darkweb Intelligence and Exploitation Unit intimated that he had executed a number of test purchases on the AlphaBay market before the platform was shut down by U.S. law enforcement.
The jury at Humza’s trial learnt that mh.nn243 had made requests to an AlphaBay vendor for 4 grenades at $115 each, which would be sent to the Watford in Hertfordshire.
The business deal never took off even though mh.nn243 would later confirm his interest in purchasing two grenades by moving cryptocurrency into an escrow account as the first step towards an anticipated dark web transaction.
It turns out that the undercover law enforcement officer who posed as a seller looking to supply the Humza’s needs claimed to have run out of grenades and therefore transferred the Bitcoin back to the suspect.
It is at that point that the suspect spoke about their need to purchase Semtex and a fuse detonator – this stage of the undercover operation led the law enforcement agents to the suspect’s residence in Watford, where he was taken into custody to face the court.
As it stands, the trial is still in progress.