Four Australians were among 21 people arrested as part of a six-month international Homeland Security sting.
Two people from the ACT, one from NSW and one from Queensland were charged with buying illegal guns on the dark web using virtual currency bitcoin from a US-based seller using an online alias.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) formed a joint operation with US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in September 2014 to make the arrests.
in February and March the authorities approved controlled delivery of six parcels to addresses in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.
They then executed 15 search warrants linked to these addresses, resulting in the seizure of four illegal firearms, ammunition, two clandestine laboratories, precursor chemicals, methamphetamine, pseudo-ephedrine, steroids, computer equipment and mobile telephones.
A total of 34 charges were laid.
On a global scale, the operation led to 17 arrests across the United Kingdom, Europe and North America. These arrests resulted in the further seizure of firearms, ballistic armour, illicit drugs and USD$80,000 worth of bitcoins.
“HSI will maintain its unrelenting commitment to secure land borders as well as virtual borders from individuals seeking to prosper from the sale and/or purchase of firearms, drugs, and other illicit items with little regard for national security,” HSI acting special agent Kevin Kelly said.
“Anyone who mistakenly thinks that they can get away with these types of crimes by hiding in the endless depths of the internet must know that HSI will seek them out and bring them to justice.”
ACBPS National Director Investigations, Assistant Commissioner Steve Lancaster, said that the operation was the most successful darknet firearms investigation conducted in Australian history and the arrest of the US-based supplier had removed a significant firearm threat to Australian borders.
“Despite this great result, Customs and Border Protection will continue to actively monitor and target illicit transnational online trade, and this operation highlights the fact that our efforts are supported by national and international law enforcement partners,” Assistant Commissioner Lancaster said.
Just last month a parliamentary inquiry found that Australian authorities have no true data on how many illegal guns are in the country.
A Senate committee report said that despite the Australian Crime Commission estimating there are approximately 260,000 illegal guns, the figure is seen as a “conservative” guess. Read more about that here.
Despite this figure, Australia’s gun ownership laws are among the strictest in the world. Firearm legislation was tightened after the 1996 shooting spree in Port Arthur, Tasmania that left 35 Australians dead.
No mass shootings have occurred in Australia since the incident.
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