Leading criminologists believe Australia’s most wanted man, flamboyant ‘Facebook Gangster’ and alleged drug lord Hakan Ayik, will never give himself up after being caught in Operation Ironside, potentially exposing his family to never-ending danger.
In unveiling the results of the sting, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw urged alleged mastermind Ayik to turn himself in because he was now a target for other criminals.
Some of the world’s biggest crooks began using the ‘AN0M’ app with encrypted messaging almost three years ago, not realising it had been secretly created by police and they were reading every word.
The app gained currency in the underworld after being promoted by Ayik.
He promoted use of the app and special phones after they were initially circulated among crime figures by police informants.
Australian police have warned Ayik – dubbed the ‘Facebook gangster’ for the flashy lifestyle he flaunted on social media – is a marked man after unwittingly peddling the ‘trojan horse’ app to his underworld associates.
Hakan Ayik (pictured) was tricked into distributing messages to criminal associates. Australian Federal Police have called for the suspected drug lord to hand himself in
Hakam Ayik’s wife Fleur Messelink. The AFP has warned that Ayik’s family could be in danger after the sting
The AFP have urged Ayik, who they allege still orchestrates huge shipments of methylampthetamine and cocaine into Australia from his base in Turkey, to hand himself into authorities.
‘Given the threat he faces, he’s best off handing himself into us as soon as he can,’ Commissioner Kershaw said.
‘He was one of the coordinators of this particular device, so he’s essentially set up his own colleagues.’
Mark Lauchs, Associate Professor of Criminology at QUT, said: ‘For the guys who’ve been described as the influencers [in use of the ANOM app], the suspicion is always going to be there that they were part of the sting.’
Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor of Criminology at Bond University and a former senior policeman, said resentment against Ayik for inadvertently distributing the app ‘would depend on individuals and how much blame they apportion to him’.
‘But I don’t expect these people to give themselves up,’ Prof Goldsworthy said.
AN0M messages, released by the US Department of Justice, show crime figures discussing a shipment of drugs which were to allegedly be thrown over a boat and then picked up
Authorities sensationally carried out Australia’s biggest ever organised crime bust on Tuesday
The risk of Ayik being taken out in revenge attacks was real, Prof Lauchs said, because he operated in an environment where there is no ‘objective, independent arbiter’ to resolve disputes.
‘You’ve got to see them operating much more like the Real Housewives television show than a group of barristers sitting around discussing a case,’ Prof Lauchs said.
‘Any secretive group like this is full of conspiracy theorists, they’re constantly at each other. There is paranoia.
‘Hakan Ayik isn’t going to put on his social media, “I’m having a fight with one of the organised crime groups and I need someone to sort it out”. He’ll have to sort it out himself.’
David Bright, a professor in Criminology at Flinders University and expert in organised crime, said the most significant factor in whether he will face payback is the undermining of trust the police operation had created.
‘Ayik is a broker between groups and we know individuals in those sorts of positions are very influential and very powerful, but they are also usually highly trusted because they’re negotiating between groups who are in competition one way or another,’ Prof Bright said.
‘What the Operation had cleverly done is undermine trust within these groups, and that’s probably the most important component of the criminal underworld… it’s all they’ve got to rely on.
‘When that trust is undermined in a significant way that’s when there’s an increased risk of violence and retribution.’
Australia’s most wanted Hakan Ayik (centre) was influential in spreading the AN0M app through his criminal networks, it has been claimed
Ayik and his wife Fleur Messelink at their wedding
Professor Janet Ransley, Director of Griffith University’s Criminology Institute, agreed Ayik and others would be worried about retribution but saw this as a downside of the operation.
‘We’re focusing on the success of the crime control operation, which is great – I’m not downplaying the risk organised crime poses to Australians – but there are also downsides to the technique.
‘One is that some people may be exposed to payback or retribution, the other is that it’s a virtual entrapment exercise. That comes with risks to the legitimacy of law enforcement, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in court proceedings.’
Whether family members of Ayik and others still living in Australia were in danger was unclear, said the crime experts, who said the ‘ethics’ of the criminal underworld may prevent them being targeted.
‘There was a story of one Mafioso in Sicily who’d rolled over to the police and they started knocking off one family member after another until he finally came out of hiding,’ Prof Lauchs recalled. ‘They’d killed 35 of his family members before he showed up.
‘In Australia if they were doing drive-bys and even endangering, let alone killing, family members, most of them would be like, “no way, you can’t do that”. Whereas overseas, they’re dealing with a much more ruthless environment.
A tactical police officer guards a handcuffed arrested man during a raid. He was one of 224 people arrested as part of Operation Ironside
‘The men who are involved in this activity have certain principles and ethics,’ Prof Bright said.
‘One of those is that you don’t mess with people’s families, and means the likelihood of [families being targeted] is low, but not zero.
‘I think we’re in new territory and don’t yet know the answer to what will happen.’
Prof Goldsworthy thought those who cooperated with Operation Ironside in return for reduced jail time were in most danger.
‘We saw mention in the FBI affidavits of use of a confidential human source (CHS),’ he said.
‘The CHS would be someone who is now going to be in need of long-term protection, given the impact this operation is having on organised crime.’
Police raid a property in Melbourne’s Sydenham over a $1billion drug importation plot
The raid allegedly uncovered a loaded firearm and $30,000 cash hidden inside a bathroom wall
Texts released after Australia’s biggest underworld bust show crime bosses were so convinced their communications were secret on the police-devised ‘AN0M’ app, they brazenly discussed huge shipments of drugs.
Australian, U.S., and European authorities carried out raids across the world on Tuesday, with 4,000 cops in Australia arresting 224 accused organised crime figures and seizing tonnes of drugs, millions in cash and other contraband and luxury goods in Operation Ironside.
Ayik’s former mate and ex-Comancheros bikie leader Mark Buddle, who was last said to be in Iraq, was also considered to have had his criminal enterprises smashed by the raids.
‘He would have been on the network and a lot of his dealings would have been captured,’ a senior unnamed NSW police officer said about Buddle to the Daily Telegraph.
Ayik’s former mate and ex-Comancheros bikie leader Mark Buddle
So convinced were criminals they that the encrypted messages were beyond the reach of law enforcement that they openly organised and discussed criminal activities.
For instance, two Australian associates discussing a cocaine smuggling operation on January 4, 2020 exchanged the following messages:
‘Think he got it in,’ one told the other, before the second responded: ‘You’re dreaming. You reckon. What he offer it to you for’.
The first person then sent a photo of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine with batman stickers on the packaging.
Two months later, on March 23 last year, an Australian user and an unknown person exchanged messages about the price of cocaine.
‘Ok sweet, I got a small job that popped up for the building block. There is 2kg put inside the French diplomatic sealed envelopes out of Bogota (Colombia),’ the third Australian wrote.
The message continued, saying the Colombian distributors would take 50 per cent of the profit while four others would split the remaining half.
The same Australian then informed the unknown person that the drug drop could happen weekly, before sending three photos of cocaine and French diplomatic pouches.
While surveillance of the ‘AN0M’ communication platform culminated in Tuesday’s raids, it had led to the arrest of more than 220 Australian organised crime figures going back to 2018.
Offenders are linked variously to the Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime.
The communications found on the platform revealed 21 murder plots, gun distribution activity and mass drug trafficking, Australian Federal Police say.
The AFP also said on Tuesday it had seized 3.7 tonnes of drugs, more than 100 weapons and almost $45 million in cash as part of the operation since 2018.
‘We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian Mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups. We allege they’ve been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale,’ Commissioner Kershaw said.
The app became popular among organised crime figures as it was spruiked by their colleagues. Pictured: excerpts of messages between an Australian and an unknown associate
‘Australian law enforcement has been arresting and charging alleged offenders and we have prevented tonnes of drugs from coming onshore.
‘We’ve arrested the alleged kingmakers behind these crimes, prevented mass shootings in suburbs, frustrated organised crime by seizing ill-gotten wealth.
‘We have been in the back pockets of organised crime.’
Details of the communications come after new footage from the most audacious law enforcement operation in Australian history was revealed, showing heavily-armed police kicking in doors, cutting through barriers and scaling high-rise apartments.
In a Melbourne court on Tuesday it was revealed how the operation stopped over $1billion of ice and cocaine being smuggled into Australia.
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong was among those arrested. The 33-year-old was charged last week following a raid at a Kangaroo Point home, where police allegedly seized 154g of meth
The bust exposed new details about how one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld. Pictured: one man being arrested by AFP officers
Pictured: Officers as part of operation Ironside are seen lining up on the street before moving in on a target
Despite the incredible success of the secret sting, Daily Mail Australia can reveal the operation was in jeopardy of being compromised earlier this year – and authorities may have wound it up earlier as a result.
In late March, an anonymous blogger known only as ‘canyouguess67’ posted an article warning users to keep off ANOM for their ‘own safety’.
‘STAY AWAY FROM ANOM IF YOU VALUE YOUR PRIVACY AND SAFETY,’ the blogger wrote in an article, which has since been pulled down.
‘THEY ARE COMPROMISED, LIARS AND YOUR DATA IS RUNNING VIA USA.’
In what now seems to be a telling clue, the blogger expressed serious concerns about the fact that the AN-M device he had tested ‘was actually in constant contact with Google services’ in both New South Wales, Australia and California.
‘I was quite concerned to see the amount of IP addresses relating to many corporations within the Five Eyes governments (Australia, USA, Canada, UK, NZ who share information with one another),’ he wrote.
Following a technical analysis, the blogger – correctly – recommended people not use AN0M technology, warning authorities could ‘completely infiltrate every users’ devices (sic) as well as their operations, and worse of all authorities would have the ability to decrypt and intercept messages’.
In a ironic twist, the unnamed tech blogger warned that they had contacted law enforcement agencies with their concerns.
The blog, named ‘ANOMEXPOSED’, had since been taken down but it was still publicly available via Google on Tuesday.
It is unclear whether the tech expert’s concerns reached the ears of the Federal Police or played a role in the project being sensationally unveiled this week.
An anonymous tech geek posted a blog online in March, titled ‘AN0M ENCRYPTED SCAM EXPOSED’
Millions of dollars in assets have been seized including this sparking collection of expensive watches
A fire engine red Ducati which is also now in the possession of the Australian Federal Police
AFP Commissioner Kershaw said federal agents had been in the ‘back pockets’ of criminals through the encryption app.
The idea, Mr Kershaw said, came over a ‘couple of beers’ between officers and FBI agents years back.
‘The FBI had the lead on this. We provided the technical capability to decrypt those messages,’ he said.
‘Some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the AFP operation, known as Operation Ironside, had struck a ‘heavy blow’ against organised crime
Pictured: Officers from operation Ironside prepare to bust down a down as part of a raid
What is AN0M?
On its glitzy website, the ‘AN0M’ phone looks like any new tech innovation with sleek black lines, ‘invite only’ exclusivity and a pledge to ‘enforce your right to privacy’.
But its best feature – and for most of its users, the worst – wasn’t promoted in its marketing material.
The phone, which supposedly allowed encrypted communications safe from the eyes of the law, was actually a cunning trap laid for a who’s who of organised crime.
‘Enforce your right to privacy’: This is how the ANoM website advertised its product – with users not realising that law enforcement officials could read each and every message
Senior bikies and mafia figures were tricked into buying hi-tech phones that would supposedly let them message one another, free of police snooping.
But the AN0M phones were actually designed by the FBI and allowed Australian police to read the texts of organised crime figures.
Police watched in real time as alleged crooks spilled their secrets to one another on their own app.
Crooks even paid six-monthly subscription fees to the police – the money only being used against them by funding law enforcement actions.
How did it all work?
Users could buy phone handsets costing between $1,500 and $2,500 from what has been described as underground distributors.
The phones were stripped down – they couldn’t even make calls, access the internet or send emails.
What did do was send encrypted messages, photos and videos, using a foreign SIM card to apparently avoid Australian data snooping laws.
Crooks could buy a six month subscription to use the app – the funds raised unknowingly redirected to the police.
Mafia figures and bikies purchased ANoM-branded phones with encrypted messaging technology already downloaded. When criminals used the phones, the messages were intercepted by Australian Federal Police law enforcement agencies
The app was invitation-only as of Tuesday morning – before the page was sensationally taken down and replaced with a warning by the FBI
Anom’s Twitter account claimed the company was based in the famously neutral nation of Switzerland
This is how the Anom.io website looked as of late Tuesday morning
The app was accessed by entering a PIN number into the phone’s calculator, the stuff of spy dramas.
AN0M’s website, which was only deleted about 10am on Tuesday, made the technology sound impenetrable.
The company was apparently based in famously neutral Switzerland and boasted of ‘military grade encrypt and sanitise’.
For its encryption, it claimed to use ‘OMEMO Double Ratchet Algorithm … independently audited by Dutch security research group Radically Open Security’.
That may have been an in-joke – as all the supposedly self-destructing messages sent on the app was radically open to the AFP to read.
Police have been coy about just how Australian mafia and bikie figures first came across the devices.
That is likely to remain a secret, as it involves police informants.
But what is clear is that the ‘business’ began to grow of its own accord beginning in about October 2018.
Criminal ‘influencers’, including Ayik, eventually became so enthralled by the technology they distributed the devices around the world.
But it is clear that AN0M is no secret anymore – with its details splashed across the world’s news sites and hundreds of cases before the courts, many no doubt unaware that someone was sounding the alarm about the app months ago.