Two brothers, 22-year-old Ali and 19-year-old Yusuf, were arrested in the Netherlands for ordering 500 grams of Semtex, a plastic explosive from the dark web. The explosive is mostly used in commercial blasting, demolition, and in certain military applications. However, Semtex became a popular tool for terrorists and paramilitary groups since it was extremely difficult to detect, until recently.
According to official court documents, the two brothers ordered 500 grams of the explosives from the dark web. They provided their home address at Amersfoort for delivery.
Ali’s trial could be expected to start on Tuesday, while Yusuf is still in pre-trial detention. Both men are suspects in the case, and the investigation is still ongoing. The prosecution claims that the two brothers were planning an attack during their visit in Amsterdam.
The suspects ordered the explosives and three detonators in September 2016 from a dark net vendor residing in the United States. The brothers communicated via the marketplace’s chat platform with the seller and agreed that the dangerous goods will be delivered via ordinary parcel service to their home address. However, what Ali and Yusuf did not know was that the seller was an undercover FBI agent. After the two suspects placed the order at the vendor, the Bureau agent immediately alerted Dutch law enforcement authorities. He transferred all details of the transaction, including the type of explosives, chat messages, and the delivery details of the parcel.
Since the seller was an undercover agent, he sent fake explosives to the two suspects, which were delivered to their home address in Amersfoort. Despite the fact that defendants did not receive real Semtex, they can still be prosecuted for their crimes. Soon after the brothers received the package, Dutch law enforcement authorities arrested them. When they searched the house, investigators found a firearm and cash, which they believe to belong to Ali.
The Public Prosecutor (OM) initially suspected the two defendants of planning a terrorist attack. However, when they received professional advice from an expert, they withdrew this charge.
“500 grams of Semtex is [a] very little [amount of explosives], but not [too] much,” arms expert Ton Hartink said in a statement. “You can blow a car to pieces, or a small truck. But you cannot blow up the whole Schiphol Airport, for example.”
Defense reacted swiftly to the expert’s statement about the possibility of a terrorist attack.
“My client has already indicated his innocence. But it never would be terrorism, which was fixed immediately. That is also adopted from the start by the magistrate,” Cem Polat said defending Ali, the main suspect in the case.
The Dutch OM updated the suspects’ accusations recently. They no longer charge them with preparatory acts for a terrorist attack, but with the violation of the explosive laws of the country. However, it remains a question whether the evidence will stand its place during the trial. Although, since the FBI interfered into the whole transaction, it could get the evidence rejected by the judge.
The defense suspects that there is incitement in the case, since an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation actively offered the illicit goods to the defendants, and played along with the brothers when they approached him. Polat claimed that the FBI agent personally sold the Semtex and the three detonators to the defendants, and if that is true, all evidence gathered by the Bureau could be rejected in court. According to the lawyer, this would explain why the agency could transfer the details of the transaction and the messages to Dutch authorities so quickly.
“In America, this method would be legal, but in the Netherlands, the rules are different,” Polat said. “In this case, we can talk about incitement.”
According to the Public Prosecutor, there is no evidence suggesting that the brothers would order more of the explosives from the internet, or from another source.
“What we do not know, of course, we do not know,” the OM said in a statement.
The only way the prosecution could charge the two defendants with conspiracy to commit terrorist attacks is if they would get strong evidence on the brothers ordering explosives from other sources.