Teenage hackers face charges over Paris terror hoax
French prosecutors have placed two minors, aged 16 and 14, under formal investigation over a false alert that triggered a vast anti-terrorist operation in central Paris last weekend.
Investigators say the 16-year-old is one of two hackers who raised the alarm about a supposed hostage crisis at a Paris church and then bragged about the hoax online.
A source close to the investigation told AFP news agency the suspect had confessed to police following his arrest in a suburb of the French capital on Monday, acknowledging he had boasted about the hoax under the Facebook pseudonym “Tylers Swatting”.
The other youth is suspected of aiding the operation, while the second hacker, whose voice was recorded in a telephone call to police on Saturday, is still at large.
The latter, who uses the pseudonym “Zakhaev Yamaha”, reportedly called police on Saturday posing as “Father Mathis” of Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles church in central Paris, after hacking the church’s phone number to make it look as if the call came from inside the building.
He told officers that armed men had taken about 20 people hostage in the church, triggering a major anti-terror operation in a busy shopping area that involved dozens of officers and members of an elite counter-terrorism unit.
Within hours of the prank, the hackers took to social media to brag about its success. “Tylers Swatting” wrote: “I did the worst SWATT, I got them to send out helicopters, the government and fifty police cars!”
“Swatting” is the practice of calling in a fake emergency to elicit an emergency response and bring out elite forces, known as SWAT teams in the US.
The practice has become popular among some American gamers, who often try to catch the law enforcement response on webcam. The teens who claimed to have provoked the Paris incident bragged on Facebook that they were watching the emergency response unfold on Skype.
The two teens also corresponded online with several French journalists on Saturday, telling them they “did it to go viral”.
Tolerance for this kind of prank is low in France, where a total of 238 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since January 2015 in a string of attacks attributed to, or fomented by, the Islamic State jihadist group.
Those convicted of “reporting an imaginary crime” face up to two years in prison and a fine of €30,000. In July of this year, a French court handed down the maximum sentence to an adolescent convicted of swatting.