Teenager admits making bomb threats that sparked UK school evacuations and security alert on US-bound flight

Thousands of children were evacuated from more than 400 UK schools in March because of George Duke-Cohan's threats

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 04 September 2018 18:02
George Duke-Cohan: Audio of British teen who made bomb threats impersonates worried father whose 'daughter's plane has been hijacked'

A teenager has admitted causing hundreds of UK schools to be evacuated and a US-bound flight to be quarantined by sending bomb threats from his bedroom in the Home Counties.

After being arrested for causing widespread disruption with the hoaxes in March and April, the 19 year old caused a security alert on a United Airlines plane by claiming a hijacker wearing a suicide vest was on board.

National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators said George Duke-Cohan made the threats “hidden behind a computer screen for his own enjoyment”, while persistently violating bail conditions.

He was arrested for the third time at his family home in Watford on Friday, where pictures showed NCA officers detaining the teenager in his bedroom.

Appearing at Luton Magistrates’ Court on Monday, Duke-Cohan admitted three counts of making hoax bomb threats.

The teenager, from Watford, has been remanded in custody and is due to be sentenced at Luton Crown Court on 21 September.

Duke-Cohan’s bomb threats were sent to thousands of schools across Britain and the US, causing more than 400 to be evacuated in the UK alone.

George Duke-Cohan, 19, pleaded guilty to three counts of making hoax bomb threats following an investigation by the National Crime Agency

They came in the form of emails purporting to be from a US-based gaming network that allows users to compete in the Minecraft game.

Written in both English and Arabic, they claimed a bomb would be detonated on school grounds within three hours unless a $5,000 (£3,700) ransom was paid.

Police surrounded some schools and searched students’ bags as a result.

The emails appeared to come from VeltPVP, a server that allows users to compete in Minecraft worldwide.

At the time, the company said its domain had been “spoofed” by a group of gamers in a bid to damage its reputation.

“We have nothing to do with the bomb threats that were sent out to the 400+ UK schools,” it said in a statement. “We're extremely sorry for anyone who had to deal with this, but just know it's fake.”

Schools were evacuated in cities including London, Birmingham, Bristol as a result of the messages, which led to a deluge of calls to police.

George Duke-Cohan, 19, pleaded guilty to three counts of making hoax bomb threats following an investigation by the National Crime Agency

Duke-Cohan was arrested just days later and released under investigation, but then sent another mass email to schools in the UK and US claiming pipe bombs had been planted on the premises in April.

Then last month, he targeted a United Airlines plane flying from London Heathrow to San Francisco.

The NCA said Duke-Cohan posed as the worried father of a passenger in phone calls to San Francisco Airport and American police.

In a recorded call to the Police Airport Bureau, Duke-Cohan is heard claiming his supposed daughter had called him minutes before “crying on the phone saying her flight was getting hijacked” by gunmen.

“She said they were holding them hostage,” he told the operator. “She said one of the men had a bomb and then it just cut out.”

After landing in San Francisco, the plane was the subject of a significant security operation in a quarantined area of the airport.

All 295 passengers had to remain on board causing disruption to onward journeys and financial loss to the airline, the NCA said.

On 9 August, the hacker group known as Apophis Squad claimed on Twitter that flight UAL 949 had been grounded due to their actions.

Investigators said evidence on Duke-Cohan’s electronic devices showed he had contravened the pre-charge bail conditions that were supposed to limit his internet use.

NCA senior investigating officer Marc Horsfall said: “George Duke-Cohan made a series of bomb threats that caused serious worry and inconvenience to thousands of people, not least an international airline.

“He carried out these threats hidden behind a computer screen for his own enjoyment, with no consideration for the effect he was having on others.

“Despite being arrested and having conditions imposed restricting his use of technology, he persistently broke those conditions to continue his wave of violent threats.

“Law enforcement take such offences extremely seriously.

“This investigation proves that operating online does not offer offenders anonymity. We will identify you and you will be brought before the courts.”

Two other teenagers were arrested in connection with the investigation. An 18-year-old man from Hampshire is on conditional bail after being detained on suspicion of making threats to kill, blackmail and malicious communications.

Another 18-year-old man from Hertfordshire was arrested on suspicion of malicious communications and released under investigation.

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