In April, a teenager, 14-years-old at the time, left school and met a darknet firearms dealer. The charges stemmed from a report by undercover police officers who had caught the teen in a darknet sting operation. One officer posed as the vendor and another, after the first had convinced the suspect to buy a submachine gun and ammunition, posed as the “in real life” contact. At a recent hearing at a Youth Court in Northern Ireland, though, the teenager entered not guilty pleas.
At his first hearing in April, the court charged him with the attempted possession of a PPS-43 submachine gun (SMG) and 100 rounds of ammunition between March 23 and April 7. Based on “covert” information obtained by the officer who had posed as a darknet vendor, the court also charged the suspect with the attempted purchase the gun with intent to cause damage to or harm another person.
He also pleaded not guilty to the recently added “terrorism” charge. Not long after the court had relaxed the teen’s bail restrictions for GCSE studies, the court added charges related to a document on the suspect’s computer. The document—a text file titled Eth.txt—contained instructions on producing an explosive similar to one used by militaries (PETN).
Police had monitored the darknet for potential gun customers, the “vendor” told the court. And during the conversations between the undercover officer and the 14-year-old, the teen agreed to buy the PPS-43 and ammunition for only $185. As the officer gathered information on the buyer, she had allegedly learned the suspect’s intentions.
According to her statement, the suspect arranged the gun deal to “intimidate a third party.” After his arrest, she added, his stories had changed. He said that his “Jamaican friend” had asked for the gun. Investigators determined that no Jamaican friend existed – at least on the teen’s Facebook account.
The court publicly revealed next-to-nothing about the evidence compiled by the police, but the evidence could be less than damaging. In six months with access to the suspect’s computer, investigators only managed to accuse the teen of downloading a text file.
Reporters, thanks to laws preventing the publication of a minor’s identity, have kept the 14-year-old’s name private. Several updated reports suggested that he had turned 15 during the case. At the Coleraine Youth Court hearing, he pleaded not guilty to all charges and chose to send his case to the Crown Court. His next hearing will take place in less than one month.