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FBI arrests man in Australian neck bomb extortion attempt

Suspect was arrested on Monday by the FBI at the home of his ex-wife and is held in Kentucky for Sydney attack two weeks ago

Bill Pulver, centre, spoke about his daughter's ordeal at a press conference in Sydney yesterday. Greg Wood/ AFP
Bill Pulver, centre, spoke about his daughter's ordeal at a press conference in Sydney yesterday. Greg Wood/ AFP

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY // Australian authorities used an email account attached to a fake bomb to track down a man accused of breaking into a family's home in Australia and chaining the device to a teenager's neck as part of an extortion ploy, according to court documents released yesterday.

An arrest complaint against Paul "Doug" Peters filed in US federal court in Kentucky indicates the Gmail account was set up from an internet address linked to a Chicago airport.

Mr Peters was arrested on Monday by the FBI at the home of his ex-wife in a Louisville suburb.

The complaint says the Gmail account was accessed three times - each time on the afternoon that Mr Peters allegedly broke into the teenager's home in a wealthy Sydney suburb and chained a device looking like a bomb to her.

The complaint also gives vivid details of the frightening incident for Madeleine Pulver, the 18-year-old daughter of William Pulver, an Australian internet executive.

It says the teenager was studying for her high school exams in her bedroom when she saw the intruder walk into the room. He was carrying a black aluminium baseball bat and wearing a striped, multicoloured balaclava over his head. The man told her to sit down and no one would get hurt.

The girl sat on her bed and the intruder placed the bat and a backpack next to her. She noticed he was holding a black box. He forced the box against her throat and looped a device similar to a bike chain, also attached to the box, around her neck.

The man locked the box into position around her neck, placed a lanyard and a plastic document sleeve around her neck. The man started to walk away, and the girl asked him where he was going.

"The man responded by saying, 'Count to 200 ... I'll be back ... if you move I can see you, I'll be right here,'" she told authorities, according to the complaint.

He then left, taking the baseball bat and the backpack.

Bomb technicians, negotiators and detectives rushed to the scene. Neighbouring homes were evacuated, streets were closed and medical and fire crews waited nearby. Ms Pulver spent 10 terrifying hours chained to the device before the bomb squad was able to free her. She was not hurt, and the device was later found to contain no explosives.

The teenager described her assailant as being in his 60s, about 165-170 centimetres tall, with a medium build and a slightly protruding stomach and weathered skin.

Australian authorities determined that the Gmail account was established on May 30, from an Internet Protocol address linked to a Chicago airport. Travel documents obtained from immigration authorities showed that Mr Peters had been at the airport that same day.

The Gmail account was accessed three times on the afternoon of August 3, almost two hours after the hoax device was placed around the teenager's neck, the complaint said.

The first access took place at 4.09pm from an IP address registered to Kincumber Library. The next two were at 5.25pm and 5.51pm on the same day, from an IP address registered to the Avoca video store stop in New South Wales.

Mr Peters is an Australian citizen but has lived in the US, including Kentucky. He is a father of three who was educated at The Scots College in Sydney.

The Pulvers were relieved to hear of the arrest. William Pulver described his daughter as "a bright, happy young woman who for reasons we still don't understand had her life turned upside down going through this dreadful experience".

* Associated Press