An Italian national has been sentenced to three years behind bars after threatening to blow up NHS hospitals, MPs and Black Lives Matters protesters over the past year.
Berlin resident Emil Apreda, 33, was identified by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) after emailing a series of threats to the Health Service last year, starting with a £10m Bitcoin extortion demand.
Apreda is said to have done so from his Berlin apartment, using anonymization techniques such as use of a Tor browser, to stay hidden. He claimed in the notes he was a member of far right organization Combat18.
Although the emails were written in English, investigators used behavioral, linguistic and other cutting-edge techniques to determine that the perpetrator was probably a fluent German speaker.
With the help of German law enforcement they traced the emails to an address in the Steglitz district of Berlin where the local state police or Landeskriminalamt (LKA) put Apreda under surveillance.
He is said to have sent 18 emails in all, threatening not only hospitals but also lawmakers and rights protesters in the UK.
“The threat made during the extortion demand significantly added to the pressures on the NHS during the COVID pandemic and meant senior leaders and emergency response staff were called on to direct the NHS aspects of the response to this threat,” said an NHS spokesperson.
“The threat and demand was made at a time that hospitals were at their most vulnerable, and could have resulted in significant loss of life.”
Firearms officers finally used explosives to force open the door to Apreda’s apartment and arrest him in June last year. Officers continued to monitor communications until they were sure he was acting alone.
Apreda was convicted of attempted extortion in the District Criminal Court in Berlin, and sentenced to three years in jail.
Nigel Leary, deputy director of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, thanked the German authorities for their help in bringing Apreda to justice.
“Protecting the NHS and the public was an absolute priority throughout this investigation and we used all the tools at our disposal to ensure he was identified and brought to justice,” he said.
“Apreda carried out his crimes against the UK hidden behind a computer screen in Germany. Cybercrime knows no borders and so our work with international partners is key to tackling it.”