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The owner of the former largest darknet forum in Germany, “Germany in the Deep Web,” just got released from pre-trial detention. For several reasons, this decision raised the eyebrows of some who followed the story. Those involved in the saga even spoke out in criticism of the court’s unusual move.
The former forum operator, a 31-year-old IT student from Karlsruhe named Alexander U., caught charges after investigators found that the Munich gunman bought a Glock from a vendor in the forum. Before the Munich events, the forum meant very little to the outside community. At the forum’s peak, it had only 20,000 members. The site was one of the few discussion forums on the darknet where members talked politics as frequently as trolls created threads about absurd topics.
Like many darknet forums, the site existed as more than a platform for discussion. It served as a German darknet market. Between the scams and listings for worthless content, users could find the occasional listing for a firearm from a vendor with a good reputation. The site also hosted several data dumps that had not surfaced on the mainstream markets. But the guns really set the market back. Gun vendors and gun markets receive more scrutiny than the average marijuana vendor, for obvious reasons. And especially so in Germany.
After David Sonboly used a Glock 17 to take several lives at Munich’s Olympia shopping mall in 2016, investigators quickly discovered that Sonboly had purchased the gun from a vendor he had met on the darknet. Before German authorities busted Alexander U., conversations between Sonboly and a weapons vendor on Germany in the Deep Web showed up even in Google searches (through indexed proxy sites).
German authorities eventually caught Philipp K., the convicted gun seller. He admitted that he had met with Sonboly on several occasions before the 18-year-old went on his fatal shooting spree. Philipp K. is currently serving seven years in prison for nine counts of negligent homicide and 15 counts of negligent assault. After taking down Phillip K., the police went after the forum’s owner. The owner, “Lucky,” was known as an incredibly cautious individual. Police eventually caught him at his apartment after tricking him into a position where law enforcement could raid the apartment before Alexander could wipe out encrypted files from his computer. (The story of how they caught him is too long to detail here.)
In Germany, Alexander has been compared to Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road. Ulbricht would never have been allowed freedom in the same way the court granted Alexander his (temporary) freedom.