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Ricin accused 'just curious' about Breaking Bad storylines

Published 24/07/2015

Mohammed Ali is on trial at the Old Bailey
Mohammed Ali is on trial at the Old Bailey

A father-of-two accused of trying to buy deadly poison ricin on the Dark Net after being inspired by the Breaking Bad television series told jurors he was just "curious" and never thought anything would come of it.

Mohammed Ali, 31, allegedly struck a deal to buy 500mg of ricin worth 500 US dollars (£320) from a dealer in the United States who went by the names of Dark Mart and Psychochem.

What the computer-obsessed software programmer did not know was that the man he was communicating with on the internet black market was an undercover FBI agent.

After taking delivery of a toy car with "special batteries" at the home he shares with his two young sons and wife in Prescot Road, Liverpool, police were ready to swoop to arrest him.

Giving evidence at his Old Bailey trial, Ali told jurors his long-term interest in computers led to him investigate the Dark Net and ricin late last year.

Even as a boy, he would spend months playing the online game World of Warcraft well into the early hours, he said.

As an adult, Ali, who is one of five siblings, moved on to computer scams to fund his other hobbies including Lego and radio-controlled cars.

He told jurors he found a "loophole" in the PayPal system and stole more than £250,000. His newsagent father was forced to sell one of his shops to pay back the money and avoid his son's prosecution when PayPal found out.

Ali said he went on to a new scam and made about £17,000 by switching new hard drives he bought through Tesco, Argos and Amazon with defective ones. He would send the computers back and sell the new hard drives on eBay.

The university drop-out made money by investing £20,000 in online gambling and betting on favourites to make a further £10,000, he said.

He also became interested in the online currency Bitcoin, but rather than buying it, he would "mine" it by running a programme on his desk top on full power.

Ali told jurors he first became interested in the Dark Net around 2010, long before he watched the television series Breaking Bad, which gave him the idea for ricin.

In the programme, a chemistry teacher makes crystal meth, and ricin is used throughout the show in "multiple plot lines".

Asked by his lawyer Joel Bennathan QC why the programme engaged him, Ali said: "I just got interested in what this stuff was.

"After watching the episodes I would go on to the internet and find out what this stuff was. It was just my curiosity.

"It's used multiple times throughout the show. It was being used as a threat against people. He was dealing with drug dealers, very dangerous people."

Asked how his interest in Breaking Bad and the Dark Net combined, he said: "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."

Mr Bennathan said: "If you wanted to test it why not buy a machine gun?"

Ali replied: "Because everyone knows it's illegal. I did not know (ricin) was illegal - I didn't know it was a chemical weapon."

In January, under the username Weirdos 0000, Ali approached Dark Mart with a private message: "Hi, would you be able to make me some ricin and send it to the UK?"

Dark Mart replied: "Yeah, no problem. I specialise in ricin. I have liquid or powder available right now 200 US dollars. UK should not be a problem."

Mr Bennathan asked: "Did you expect to get that message?"

Ali replied: "I did not expect any response to be honest. I didn't think anything would come of it."

Quizzed on his message to Dart Mart asking 'How does one test it's ricin, apart from the obvious?', Ali said: "That's just me thinking about Breaking Bad at the time."

Ali, who was born in Bolton and has lived all his life in the North West of England, denies attempting to possess a chemical weapon between January 10 and February 12.

The court heard that the night before Ali was arrested, he had opened the ricin delivery, and searched the internet for small animals to try the poison on.

"I went to my computer room. I saw this box that I had received earlier on. It was open just enough to see that there was a toy car inside. The toy car was inside another box.

"I took this toy car out of the other box, I carefully removed the toy from the packaging and opened the lid of the battery department and found what were vials."

He added that as soon as he saw the vials, he knew that the package was what he had ordered on the "dark web".

"I was shocked that this could actually work. I had been able to get it from the site.

"It didn't quite look like powder. When I opened it up, it was flaky. It was a yellowish colour."

Jurors heard that he then "carefully" wrapped the toy car back up and put it back into the box, before placing it under another brown box in the room.

Ali explained that because the ricin did not look like what he had expected, he was in two minds about whether what he received was the poison.

He said that his actions were "very clever" as the ricin was "fairly dangerous".

When asked what he did next, Ali told the court that he started looking on the internet for little pets to buy, and try the toxin on.

He continued: "After doing a few searches I realised this is a very stupid, very very stupid thing to do, and I stopped looking for any sort of pets, and started searching for Pets Direct for my son.

"He has been wanting a pet for a long long time, and because I was already on these websites, I started to look for a pet for my son."

The court heard that the searches included looking for animals like chinchillas.

Ali told jurors that he dismissed the idea of looking for animals to test the ricin on and commit "pet murder".

Jurors were told that he later went to bed with the intention of getting rid of the poison in the morning.

He said: "One of the things that came to my mind was actually flushing it down the toilet."

Ali added that he had thought about buying and wearing a face mask and gloves, and then scrubbing down the whole house. But he did not get the chance to dispose of the poison as the police arrived at his home the following morning and arrested him.

Ali told jurors that he now realised that buying the ricin was a "reckless" thing to do and that he had never intended to harm anyone.

He continued: "It is a very, very stupid thing. I realise I should not have done it at all. I was just interested in finding out how one of these dark market places actually works and that is all I wanted to know."

Under cross-examination, Ali told jurors that he had been surprised at how quickly the order arrived, and how the vials had been concealed.

He said: "I never in my wildest dreams imagined that he (FBI agent posing as ricin dealer) would send it in a toy car. I thought it would be sent by a secure method.

"He was sending a dangerous substance from abroad, getting it through customs. And on top of that, normally when I order stuff from abroad, I get a customs letter coming through my letter box, before I get the packages."

Ali added: "I thought that if if he is going to send this, it will get stopped at some point."

The defendant also told jurors that because he had not read the delivery instructions from the dealer, when he first saw the toy car, he thought it was one that he had invested in a year ago for his five-year-old son.

When police raided his home the following day, Ali was subjected to a "safety interview" during which he was asked if there were any hazardous substances in the property.

In court Ali conceded that he had told a "little lie" and informed officers that there was nothing there.

Prosecutor Sally Howes asked why he had not immediately been honest.

He replied: "I was simply frightened and scared about the whole situation, how it was happened. This happened really quickly, I was taken into the back of a police van. I was looking around for my wife and kids - I couldn't see them.

"It was just the first thing that came to my mind and it was just a lie."

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