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US militia man charged with planning to blow up Amazon data centre

Amazon Data Centre Ashburn Virginia.jpg

A Wichita Falls, Texas man has been charged by the US Department of Justice for conspiring to blow up an Amazon Web Services data centre in Virginia.

Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested by the FBI after he allegedly bought bomb devices off an undercover agent.

He has been charged with “a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive”, after “attempting to obtain” bombs from the agent in Fort Worth, Texas. He made his initial appearance in a federal court last week.

After Pendley allegedly threatened attacks on a militia website, a reader of that site reported him to the FBI.

That initial report led to law enforcement tracking his email and Facebook accounts, which revealed the defendant had told friends that he had attended the US Capitol demonstration in support of outgoing president Trump this January, having driven there with a rifle in the boot. The demo led to an assault on the US government building but Pendley, in messages, said he had left the gun in his car.

In late January, according to the federal charge sheet, Pendley began using encrypted messaging app Signal to communicate with a “confidential source”. That source told the FBI that Pendley allegedly stated he planned to use C-4 plastic explosives to attack data centres in an attempt to “kill off about 70% of the internet”.

On 31 March, that confidential source introduced Pendley to an individual who he claimed was his “explosives supplier”. In reality, the man was an undercover FBI agent.

In recorded conversations, Pendley allegedly told the undercover agent that he planned to attack web servers that he believed provided services to the FBI, CIA and other federal agencies. He said he “hoped to bring down the oligarchy currently in power in the US”.

The key Amazon data centre facility in Ashburn, Virginia is believed to have been the prime target.

On 8 April, Pendley again met with the undercover FBI agent to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices after the agent showed him how to arm and detonate them. But he was instead given inert dummy devices. After the defendant loaded them into his car he was arrested by FBI agents.

If convicted, Pendley faces up to 20 years in a federal prison.

In response to the arrest, Amazon Web Services said: “We take the safety and security of our staff and customer data incredibly seriously, and constantly review various vectors for any potential threats. We will continue to retain this vigilance about our employees and customers.”

Acting US attorney Prerak Shah said of the case: “We are indebted to the concerned citizen who [initially] came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric. In flagging his posts to the FBI this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers.

“The Justice Department is determined to apprehend domestic extremists who intend to commit violence.”