Police in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana have arrested two men on suspicion of selling weapons and explosives on the dark web to customers across the EU.
The alleged 39-year old vendor and his suspected 33-year old accomplice were held in raids that resulted in the recovery of automatic and semiautomatic guns, large amounts of ammunition and hand grenades.
According to Europol, the two Slovenian nationals used dark web marketplaces to sell weapons including sub-machine guns and AK-47-style assault rifles to buyers from countries including France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK, who paid for their purchases using cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
Intelligence provided by Europol’s Focal Point Firearms unit helped the Slovenian National Police identify and arrest the suspects.
A Europol spokesperson said: “Arrests such as these ones signal the start of the law enforcement community’s ability to access the dark web and collate data for prosecution, proving that the inflated sense of anonymity and security created by the internet can work to law enforcement’s benefit.”
Security officials fear that weapons available on dark web marketplaces could find their way into the hands of lone wolf terrorists. A German-Iranian teenager who killed nine people in a terror shooting spree in Munich in July is said to have obtained the weapons he used in the attack illegally on the internet.
Ali David Sonboly, who German police say was inspired by Norwegian right-wing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik, reportedly bought a Glock 9mm pistol and 300 rounds of ammunition on the dark web. It is believed the weapon he used came from arms dealers in Slovakia, a country which is thought to be the source of the weapons used in last year’s Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.
In April, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that criminal gangs are using the dark web to smuggle illegal weapons into Britain using unsuspecting courier firms. The organisation said gangs are splitting weapons into component parts before importing them in the hope of reducing the chances they will be discovered by customs officers.
Announcing that the NCA had started working with delivery firms as part of its efforts to stop dark web weapons entering the UK, David Armond, the agency’s Deputy Director General, warned it is almost impossible to effectively screen all of the parcels that enter Britain from overseas.
“It would be like holding back the sea to try to expect every parcel to be searched, but we are working with industry to plug vulnerabilities,” he said.
The ease with which teenage terrorist Sonboly was able to get his hands on a deadly weapon demonstrates just how straightforward it is to obtain guns on the dark web. Anyone who has the basic computer skills required to operate the anonymous Tor browser and locate a dark web marketplace could have a high-powered weapon delivered to their home within a matter of days, with no questions asked.