The "About Us" page of Russia-based hitman website zakazat-kilera.com
By now, you'll have heard all about the legions of tech-savvy hitmen hanging out on the deepweb waiting to be asked to kill people. The sites have gained plenty of attention in recent months, largely because of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of infamous deepweb drug marketplace Silk Road. Ulbricht is currently accused of hiring contract killers to take out six people, having been arrested in an FBI sting on October 1st.
But you don't even need to know what the deepweb is to hire yourself a contract killer. Sites based in the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe are alledgedly offering their services, completely openly over the internet, for anyone to access and place an order. Running since February of this year, one site offers everything the bloodthirsty revenge seeker might be after. “A light shake down” for $350; the Tarantino-esque “Chiropractor” for $800, and for some extra cash, they will break any part of the victim's body for $50 a bone.
When it comes to the murder itself, several options are available: “death from natural causes or an unfortunate incident”; "'random' murder in a fight (for example in an assault at night)”, or the “classic” ordered hit. Prices for these depend on various factors, such as the location of the victim and whatever challenges the hitman may need to overcome to complete the job. For an additional fee, customers can request a slew of optional extras: leaving the target naked in the forest; having them dig their own grave, getting them gagged with a rag soiled with urine and faeces. The customisation options are pretty vast.
While it might seem like zakazat-kilera.com is either a playful hoax, the work of fraudsters or both, Russian politicians are taking it seriously enough that they are making and fielding repeated calls for it to be blacklisted. Andrew Slavyanski, an analyst from cyber-research think tank SecDev has been tracking it and other sites like it for a while and is convinced it's the real deal. “It's like you're ordering what you'd like in a hotel room, or what accessories you'd like on a car,” Slavyanski told me. “The language is very matter-of-fact – 'Would you like this, or this...? It will cost you this much...' There is no room for misinterpretation.”
From the FAQ page of zakazat-kilera.com
A list of sexually violent acts is also advertised, the most graphic being “rape by a gay man, shaved head, over 100kg and loves virgin ass”, which is yours for just $1,000. These guys essentially claim that they'll do anything to a victim of your choosing for a price, assuming that they live in or around one of the cities where they operate, which include Moscow, Kiev and Minsk.
The site doesn't seem to be a one-off, either. Andrew showed me another, arguably more sinister site. “This one is no nonsense whatsoever,” he continued. “There is a page dedicated to what they do; a second about anonymity, and then a third detailing how to make the order.”
Although gun crime in the US is generally high, organised hits will very rarely take place outside of the criminal world, whereas contract killings for civilians are more common in Russia. Earlier this year, 64-year-old businessman Stepan Ananikyan was arrested on suspicion of ordering the deaths of six people, apparently as revenge for his own son's murder. Another recent case saw a businessman and his daughter fatally shot while they were walking to their car.
These are “guys that just walk up behind people and just shoot them in the back of the head before calmly walking away, in a very methodical, very organised way”, Andrew told me, adding that the crimes have been “caught on security cameras”. The site details what sort of people make up their team. Among them are former sportsmen, who – after working as professional boxers, wrestlers and athletes – found it difficult to get work when their countries dismantled at the end of the Cold War. “They definitely populated a part of the criminal underworld in the early 90s as the Soviet Union fell apart,” Andrew explained. There are also a number of hardened criminal types and military veterans who fought the Mujahideen in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, “who are typically about 45, maybe in their early fifties”.
As mentioned, this website is not on the deepweb; you don't need to download Tor or do anything out of the ordinary in order to access it and place an order. So how are they getting away with it? “They claim to have close ties with the security services," explains Andrew, "[either] the police or local governors.” This may be a reason why this sort of site is operating successfully in Eastern Europe and Russia. “It's very possible [in that part of the world] to be part of the state apparatus or security services, as well as a member of an organised criminal gang," says Andrew. "As long as you're able to feed both mouths, you're able to do that.”
The tags section from zakazat-kilera.com
In April 2013, a police officer who had been providing hitman services to gangs was arrested for the killing of six people. He may have been nabbed eventually, but his track record shows that these people at least feel some sort of security while darting between the roles of law enforcement and contract killer. Usually “it's a lot harder to arrest or punish people who are part of the police,” Andrew pointed out.
There have been some attempts at restricting access to or shutting down these hire-a-killer websites, but law enforcement tend to run into two major problems. Firstly, the government is only able to bring down websites if they contain propaganda for suicide or child pornography, and although this site may be openly advertising the services of rape and gruesome murder, it contains neither of those. Secondly, there needs to be a formal complaint from someone who has used the site. Naturally, this is not going to happen, so these sites have remained largely active over the past ten months, with little interference. In fact, it appears that the site advertising murders with all the shiny extras has only changed its URL once, and this was after a Russian senator demanded its closure.
Looking at the trend in a broader context, these websites are another manifestation of how individuals and groups are using the internet to empower themselves. Whether that's a Mexican drug cartel using Tor and encryption to communicate; a social movement in Brazil gaining momentum by coordinating through Twitter or even a group of hitmen trying to reach a wider customer base, technology is allowing people – both outlaws and citizens – to do what they do better. It is often states – swamped and made languid with bureaucracy – that are left a step behind. “They cannot move as quickly as the individual can,” the analyst pointed out. “If they want to block this site, […] it just moves to a different web address. As a result, it's far more difficult to legislate than other aspects of the market might be.”
This is what happened to the drug marketplace Silk Road, as well as Pirate Bay mirror sites and even WikiLeaks. In a similar way to how drug dealers are now finding it easier to sell their products through cyberspace, it seems that Russia's contract killers have found a new home on the internet.
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