International intelligence agencies spent months investigating a far right group which had called for a ‘white jihad’ and which was rapidly recruiting members in Russia, the US and the UK.
But when they finally tracked down its founding father, who had used encrypted forums to demand followers “rape Christian nuns in Hitler's name” and had listed “Jewish, black, gay and transgender people" among his enemies, they discovered he was in fact a child.
The leader of Feuerkrieg Division was a boy - and he had been operating from his bedroom in a small town on an Estonian island.There was no 'armed swoop' under blue lights.
At 13-years-old, the mysterious figure known to followers online as “Kriegsherr” (warlord) or “Commander FKD” was too young to be charged with committing an offence.
So when officials in Tallinn dispatched officers to his home, their first conversation was not with him but with his parents.“It’s always a pretty bad surprise when you find out that a child as young as 13 has gotten him or herself mixed up in something like that and in this case it is most critical to think of the child’s interests,…” said Harrys Puusepp of the Estonian Internal Security Service in an interview with ITV News.
The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had used a domineering tone to dupe some of his followers.
Over several months his group grew to a few dozen members who operated via social media where they celebrated racist murders and called for further killings.
This was not a conventional terrorist organisation, but a looser online alignment which is increasingly common among far right groups - and although some members were able to conceal their extremism beyond the online “echo chamber”, others made no such attempt."This idea that there was this one leader who in reality was a 13-year-old boy, copying other people’s ideas, mixing them up and fooling others to make them believe that he’s in charge and he’s in control and there is an actual group rather than just a chat room on the internet….
"I think it may be an illusion from one point of view but at the same time if people believe that, people who are there in the chat room and act on what is being discussed there, then the threat is not illusional, it’s real.”
In Britain, another teenage boy who had become involved online with ‘the Commander’ established Feuerkrieg Division’s British cell, operating from his grandmother’s house in south-east Cornwall.
His unit, known as FKD_GB, had five members and was formed in June 2019, one month before the boy's arrest.
He became the UK’s youngest convicted terrorist last month - and on Monday he was handed a 24-month youth rehabilitation order at the Old Bailey.
The judge told the boy he had "entered an online world of wicked prejudice" adding that reoffending would lead to a "spiral of ever lengthening terms of incarceration”.Police investigators in Estonia had observed how the organisation had reached people across the world, including the English West Country.
“Exchanging radical, violent ideas is a truly global phenomenon which means there are no borders” said Mr Puusepp.
There are echoes of the rise of far right extremism in the United States, where extremists have been encouraged by the helping hands of like-minded people across the world.“This perception that on the internet people self radicalise is a bit off because in most cases those lone actors, they don’t radicalise by themselves or in their inner world but rather they are being affected by the material that’s out there on the internet and also when they are discussing those ideas with others and radicalisation usually (accelerates) quite a lot due to both the material on the internet and also in these conversations.”Officials in Tallinn are confident that given his age there is a high chance he can be “saved” and drawn away from extremism. He is undergoing a deradicalisation process similar to the one his British deputy will be put through
Speaking of the Estonian child, Mr Puusepp said: “Of course I have to be (hopeful) because he is still very, very young and I think there is always hope.
"And I think there is more hope with younger people than perhaps with people whose frustration has piled up over the long, long years for different reasons and perhaps it’s harder to bring them back to normal life than it is to make sure a kid has a chance for a decent life.”