Computer geek faces long jail sentence over bid to buy deadly ricin poison
A computer geek is facing a lengthy jail sentence for trying to buy deadly ricin poison from the Dark Web after being inspired by the hit US television series Breaking Bad.
Software programmer Mohammed Ali, 31, held his head in his hands after being found guilty of attempting to possess a chemical weapon between January 10 and February 12.
Under the username Weirdos 0000, Ali struck a deal with a supplier on the internet black market to buy 500mg of powder for 500 US dollars (£320) - enough to kill 1,400 people.
Ali was unaware that his source Psychochem was in fact an FBI agent who tipped off police in England and substituted the consignment of ricin for harmless powder.
After the father of two took delivery of a toy car with five vials hidden in the battery compartment, police swooped to arrest him at his home in Prescot Road, Liverpool.
Under ultraviolet light, Ali's face lit up showing that he had handled the package which had been specially treated with a marker substance.
Computer analysis showed that Ali first began trawling the internet for information on poisons such as abrin, ricin and cyanide in October last year.
The court heard Ali approached the undercover agent in January with a private message: "Hi, would you be able to make me some ricin and send it to the UK?"
In a series of encrypted chats they discussed the price of a lethal dose, discounts for bulk orders and repeat purchases, and ricin's "shelf life", jurors were told.
At one point Ali asked: "How do I test this ricin?" and received the instruction: "You must test it on a rodent."
Records showed that on February 4 - days before the delivery - he made a payment of 2.1849 Bitcoins, the online currency.
Around this time, Ali had made a to-do list on his computer which included the entries "paid ricin guy" and "get pet to murder", the court heard.
He had also made a series of internet searches for chinchillas, animal rescue centres, rabbits and "pocket-sized pets".
In his defence, Ali told jurors that he was just "curious" and wanted to test the boundaries of the Dark Web unaware that ricin was illegal.
He told the jury: "I was interested in the Dark Net and ricin. I just wanted to know what the fuss was about.
"I wanted to know can you actually get anything from these sites. So I go on one of these websites - Evolution.
"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 that he abandoned his idea to test out the poison on a small animal and had resolved to flush it down the toilet instead.
His defence team suggested this excused his behaviour in law because Ali wanted ricin for a "peaceful purpose" and a psychologist told jurors he exhibited signs of Asperger's syndrome.
But prosecutor Sally Howes QC said Ali was a "chancer" who lied to police about having ricin when he was arrested in the hope that he would "get away with it".
And everything about his conduct pointed to a man who carefully and meticulously researched and carried out a plan to buy ricin.
Ms Howes told the jury that ricin was the "perfect poison" because it killed without leaving a trace in the body. Ali had ordered enough to kill up to 1,400 people, although his potential targets were not known.
Before hatching his ricin plan, Ali had been involved in various illegal money-making scams which included stealing £250,000 from PalPal through a loophole in the system and switching defective computer hard drives for new ones to sell on eBay. He also told jurors how he used to "mine" for Bitcoins rather than buying them.
The Old Bailey jury took five and a half hours to convict Ali who then slumped in the dock and buried his head in his hands.
Adjourning sentencing to September 18, Mr Justice Saunders said: "There is no evidence that he was planning any sort of terrorist attack.
"There is also no evidence that he had in mind any specific victims for ricin. I do not accept he was going to dispose of it.
"I'm satisfied it would have remained in his possession in some way and that is the basis on which I propose to sentence."
The judge ordered a psychiatric report and asked for information about Ali's dangerousness before the next hearing.
The maximum sentence for the offence is life imprisonment.
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'.
"Law enforcement agencies use a range of investigative techniques to monitor and police unlawful internet activity."
Sue Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service counter terrorism division, said: "The jury has today roundly rejected Mohammed Ali's claim that he was trying to understand the workings of the dark web and wanted to buy ricin, a deadly toxin, for a 'peaceful purpose'.
"Today shows yet again that even in the case of crimes committed in the darkest corners of the internet, criminals can be caught and convicted."