Man convicted of threatening to blow up NHS hospital during Covid crisis

Italian-born criminal demanded $13.2m in cryptocurrency

An Italian man living in Berlin has been convicted of attempted extortion for threatening to blow up a British National Health Service hospital. AP.
An Italian man living in Berlin has been convicted of attempted extortion for threatening to blow up a British National Health Service hospital. AP.

A 33-year-old Italian man was convicted Friday of attempted extortion after he threatened to blow up a National Health Service hospital unless he was given £10 million ($13.2 million) in cryptocurrency.

Emil A, a resident of Berlin whose last name was not given in line with German privacy laws, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Though he never made good on the threat against the unspecified hospital, it came during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic as the UK's healthcare system was struggling. British authorities stressed how seriously it was taken at the time.

Nigel Leary, deputy director of the National Crime Agency’s cyber crime unit, said that because of the difficulty of evacuating patients in intensive care, “a mere phone call” threatening to plant an explosive in a hospital could have resulted in loss of life.

The court found that the accused sent an email in April 2020 from his home to the NHS, saying he would blow up a hospital unless he received the funds in his Bitcoin account.

The NHS did not respond and the man proceeded to send another 17 threatening emails until his arrest in June, according to prosecutors.

In his emails, the man had purported to be part of the group Combat 18, a neo-Nazi organisation.

National Crime Agency officials said the man had used the group Combat 18 merely as a front for the extortion, to add “gravitas” to the threats, but did not have any link to the far right.

They added he had no known links to the UK or its hospitals.

After first threatening the public health service, officials said that later on, the man expanded his threats to include a Black Lives Matter protest and a politician in Westminster.

Investigators were able to track the man through his electronic trail despite his attempts to conceal it, said court spokeswoman Lisa Jani. He was arrested in an overnight raid on June 15 by police Swat teams and federal agents.

During the course of their probe, investigators determined that the man had produced no bomb and had no specific target, Ms Jani said.

Emil A may appeal Friday’s ruling.

He had already been convicted of a similar threat against a Dutch company in 2013 and sentenced to 10 months probation.

Published: February 27, 2021 01:50 AM

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