A computer geek has been jailed for eight years 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, was found guilty last month of attempting to possess a chemical weapon between January 10 and February 12.
Sentencing Ali at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Saunders told him that having a chemical weapon was “much more serious that possessing a firearm”.
He said: “It seems to me that this is the sort of case where a deterrent sentence has to be passed.
“Everyone needs to know that the possession of a chemical weapon is extremely serious and long prison sentences will follow.”
The judge commended law enforcement agencies in Britain and the United States for ensuring that ricin – know as the perfect poison for leaving no trace – did not get into Ali’s possession.
He told the court: “I am satisfied so that I am sure, that Mohammed Ali had no intention of disposing of the ricin immediately.
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“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 was diagnosed with mild Asperger’s or autistic traits, stood impassively in the dock as he was sentenced.
A woman in the public gallery who is believed to be a family member wailed loudly as he was sent down.
Earlier in mitigating, 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.”
Under the username Weirdos 0000, Ali struck a deal with a supplier on the internet black market to buy 500 mg of powder for 500 US dollars, 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 said: “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.”
Afterwards, 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’.”