UK police hack gun smugglers’ encrypted messages, seize arms cache with Paris attack links

© Arben Celi
Police spied on the encrypted messages of Kent-based gunrunners, who were smuggling 31 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition into the UK from a source allegedly linked to the Paris attacks.

Armed cops raided the boat Albernina in Kent in August 2015, finding the stash of deadly weapons in its specially-adapted smuggling compartments.

The gang now faces years in prison for running guns, which are thought to have been sourced in Eastern Europe.

The same supplier is believed to have provided some of the weapons used in the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 and the Paris attacks in November that year.

The court heard how Harry Shilling, 25, and Michael Defraine, 30, were caught in the raid by armed police after months of high-tech surveillance. Several other associates are also under investigation.

Police monitored the gang’s movement back and forth along the well-established gun smuggling route between the UK and Slovakia via border CCTV and Satnav records.

Their encrypted messages on Blackberry mobile phones were also monitored closely, revealing their activities and aspirations.

We are a firm ant [sic] we,” Shilling said to Defraine as the arms arrived in the UK.

Proper heavy an armed to the teeth,” Defraine responded.

We are now armed proper on both side proper cartel,” Shilling, who is also accused of drug trafficking offences in London, boasted to a contact in Europe.

Duncan Atkins QC, prosecuting, told the Old Bailey: “The defendants intended these guns to be used ... as lethal weapons capable of unleashing carnage on a terrifying scale.

Although the weapons were deactivated, experts told the court they could easily have been rendered lethal once again.

While bought for £38 (US$54) each, the rifle’s street value is thought to be up to £8,000. The trade in arms had repeatedly been traced to the town Zalaba in Slovakia. Investigators allege a gun shop there named AFG Security – which the two main suspects’ Satnav indicates they visited – is playing a role in the trade.

The operation to catch the criminals was coordinated between Kent Police and the Border Force under the direction of the National Crime Agency (NCA) – the UK version of the FBI.

In a statement to the Daily Mail, the NCA’s Head of Specialist Operations Rob Lewin said: “This seizure of automatic weapons was the largest ever made by the NCA – and, we believe, the largest ever on the UK mainland.

These are hugely powerful firearms, and have, as the prosecution stated in court, a ‘truly devastating capability,’” he added.