Silk Road, the clandestine online marketplace for illegal items including drugs, is offline following an arrest of the website’s suspected operator by the FBI.
A spokesperson said that on Tuesday, Ross William Ulbricht was arrested at a public library in San Francisco “without incident”.
Those trying to access The Silk Road are presented with a notice informing them that the site has been seized.
The FBI has reported that it also seized approximately $3.6 million worth of the virtual currency known as bitcoins. Mr Ulbricht’s charges include conspiracy to traffic narcotics, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. He made an initial appearance at the San Francisco federal court, during which a bail hearing was planned for Friday.
“From in or about January 2011, up to and including September 2013, the Silk Road Hidden Website… has served as an online marketplace where illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services have been regularly bought and sold by the site’s users,” state court papers filed in the Southern District of New York.
“The complainant further alleges, in part, that the Silk Road Hidden Website is designed to facilitate the illicit commerce hosted on the site by providing anonymity to its users, by operating on what is known as The Onion Router or Tor network… and by requiring all transactions to be paid in bitcoins, an electronic currency designed to be as anonymous as cash.”
According to another document, allegedly Mr Ulbricht was being blackmailed by a Canadian Silk Road user who went by the name FriendlyChemist. This user tried to extort money by threatening to reveal thousands of identities of the site’s users.
Private communications have been recovered suggesting that Mr Ulbricht was willing to use violent means to stop the blackmailer. According to messages sent in March and April he had “solicited a murder-for-hire”, with subsequent messages indicating he had received a photograph of the victim after paying $150,000 to have him assassinated.
The court documents do point out that Canadian law enforcers have no record of a homicide taking place at this time.
The discussion site Reddit has set up a forum dedicated to Silk Road and the general feeling of many is one of shock. Some felt that it is likely copycat sites will start popping up soon.