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Darknet, Inside An Illicit German Weapons Ring On The Internet

Criminals of the 21st century do not have to go to clubs to sell their drugs or drive across the border to buy their weapons. They only have to smuggle malware onto someone's computer or sell their goods at the black market of the digital underground.

Darknet, Inside An Illicit German Weapons Ring On The Internet
Marc Neller

Reports on the shooting Friday in Munich that left nine dead say that the gunman likely obtained his weapons online illegally via the "dark net." The following Die Welt article earlier this month covers another German case, in the city of Stuttgart, and the issues around black market activity on encrypted websites.

BERLIN — The three young men knew how to make lots of money. All they needed was a small workshop at grandma's, access to the Internet and a few guns that fired blanks.

One of them was a toolmaker. He would be the one to turn the blank-firing guns into real weapons, mostly Walther PK380 semi-automatic pistols. The second had the funds to buy the material needed for the operation. The third would help assemble the weapons.

And then there's Darknet, a kind of parallel Internet in which you can remain anonymous or use a fake identity. That would be the perfect place to sell their homemade weapons. Later, they thought, they might even graduate to big guns like the Zastava M70 or AK-47 assault rifle.

That's the story the Stuttgart district attorney pieced together after months of investigation. The suspects are German nationals — one aged 24 and the two others aged 28 — who now face charges for trading illegal weapons online.

Although the investigating officers do not know how the men managed to import four illegal assault rifles from China and Yugoslavia, they are sure that the youngest of the three was the one to sell the weapons online, including ammunition, for a total of 11,200 euros. The two others were supposed to launder the money through a petrol station.

The case is now to be tried at the Stuttgart district court and it throws light on the dark underbelly of the Internet.

You can get anything and everything illegal on the internet from computer viruses to drugs and weapons. An online black market has been founded by criminals for whom it is easy to remain undetected in the so-called Darknet. This corner of the internet can only be reached through anonymous services such as Tor.

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Tor users worldwide — Source: Stefano.desabbata

Criminals of the 21st century do not have to rob banks or go to clubs to sell their drugs or drive across the border to sell their weapons. They only have to smuggle malware onto someone's computer or sell their wares at the black market of the digital underground.

The Internet is an uneven playing field. Investigators are fighting ghosts. Most of the time, the ghosts win. But sometimes, things turn out differently and investigators are able to take down a dealer or even an entire network.

But a dealer is only caught if he or she was careless and left visible traces. This was apparently what recently happened with the three Germans. The district attorney general was investigating several men who apparently dealt with weapons, weapon parts and ammunition. A raid in autumn of 2015 led to the discovery of emails on one of the defendant's phones. These emails suggested that he bought assault rifles, converted them and sent them to a delivery address in Paris. The timing was conspicuous: it happened shortly before the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, 2015.

The men were then suspected to have knowingly or unknowingly supplied the weapons for these attacks. But it soon emerged that evidence supporting these suspicions was not sufficient. The district attorney has stressed this point repeatedly. Despite the fact that the youngest of the defendants sent the assault rifles to a "non-existing drop site" in Paris it was never established whether the assault rifles ever reached Paris or, indeed, ever left Germany.

The three suspects have been in remand for months now and are expected to receive prison sentences of up to five years.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Poland's Break With Ukraine Weakens All Enemies Of Russia — Starting With Poland

Poland’s decision to stop sending weapons to Ukraine is being driven by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party's short-term electoral calculus. Yet the long-term effects on the world stage could deeply undermine the united NATO front against Russia, and the entire Western coalition.

Photo of ​Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Lutsk, Ukraine, on July 9

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Lutsk, Ukraine, on July 9

Bartosz T. Wieliński


WARSAW — Poland has now moved from being the country that was most loudly demanding that arms be sent to Ukraine, to a country that has suddenly announced it was withholding military aid. Even if Poland's actions won't match Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s words, the government has damaged the standing of our country in the region, and in NATO.

“We are no longer providing arms to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland,” the prime minister declared on Polsat news on Wednesday evening. He didn’t specify which type of arms he was referring to, but his statement was quickly spread on social media by leading figures of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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When news that Poland would be withholding arms to Ukraine made their way to the headlines of the most important international media outlets, no politician from PiS stepped in to refute the prime minister’s statement. Which means that Morawiecki said exactly what he meant to say.

The era of tight Polish-Ukrainian collaboration, militarily and politically, has thus come to an end.

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