A man has been jailed for eight years for attempting to buy enough lethal ricin to kill 1,400 people. Mohammed Ammer Ali, from Liverpool, told the court that he had been inspired by TV show Breaking Bad, and that he had just wanted to explore the Dark Web. He claimed to be unaware that ricin is illegal.
Ali, 31, was found guilty last month of attempting to possess a chemical weapon between January 10 and February 12, the Independent has reported. Under the username “Weirdos 0000″, Ali approached a fellow dark web user Psychochem, asking: “Hi, would you be able to make me some ricin and send it to the UK?”
He struck a deal with the black market provider to buy 500 mg of powder for $US500 (£320) – enough to kill 1,400 people. Online records show that on February 4 he made a payment of 2.1849 Bitcoins, the online currency.
In a series of encrypted conversations they discussed the price of a lethal dose, discounts for bulk orders and repeat purchases, and ricin’s “shelf life”. At one point Ali asked: “How do I test this ricin?” and was told: “You must test it on a rodent.”
In early February Ali made an online to-do list which included the entries “pay ricin guy” and “get pet to murder,” the court was told. Ali also searched the net for chinchillas, animal rescue centres, rabbits and “pocket-sized pets”.
However, his luck ran out when he took possession of a toy car with five vials hidden in the battery compartment – Psychochem was in fact the username of an undercover FBI agent who had sent a consignment of harmless powder and tipped off police in England.
They swooped as soon as the package was delivered, shining a UV light on Ali’s face which lit up, showing that he had handled the package, which had been treated with a marker substance.
Sentencing Ali at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Saunders told him that having a chemical weapon was “much more serious that possessing a firearm”.
“It seems to me that this is the sort of case where a deterrent sentence has to be passed,” he said. “Everyone needs to know that the possession of a chemical weapon is extremely serious and long prison sentences will follow.”
The judge went on to commend the law enforcement agencies in America and the UK for ensuring that Ali did not take possession of real ricin. “I am satisfied so that I am sure, that Mohammed Ali had no intention of disposing of the ricin immediately,” Justice Saunders said.
“He intended to keep it. That created a real risk that at some stage in the future he might decide to experiment with it or that it could fall into the wrong hands.”
Ali, who has been diagnosed with mild Asperger’s, told the court in his defence that he had merely been “curious” and had wanted to test the boundaries of the dark web and was unaware that ricin was illegal.
“I found lots of different items ranging from drugs, guns, other illegal items, and because I had been watching Breaking Bad TV show I just had ricin in my mind,” he said.
As he was sentenced, a family member in the public gallery wailed loudly. Earlier in mitigation, Joel Bennathan QC said: “Mr Ali has a large supportive family who care for him. They are distraught and appalled by the mess he has got into. When he is released he will be supervised and will be occupied in order to make a living and looked after by his family.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Mole of the North West Counter Terrorism Unit said: “Ali attempted to buy a deadly poison and we can only speculate on what he planned to use it for, but in any case such as this, we take swift and decisive action.
“Thanks to the vigilance of officers from a number of different law enforcement agencies, we were able to intervene before this man did get hold of such a deadly substance from a genuine seller.
“I want to reassure our communities that the North West Counter Terrorism Unit and local police are well aware of the potential dangers associated with internet activity on the ‘dark web’.”