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FBI arrests Texas man with alleged plot to blow up Amazon data center

The suspect allegedly posted on social media and messaged other people about his plan to "kill ... 70% of the internet."

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
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The FBI says it foiled a plot to blow up an Amazon data center.

Angela Lang/CNET

A Texas man who allegedly planned to bomb an Amazon Web Services data center in Virginia was arrested Thursday, according to the US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. The FBI has filed a criminal complaint in federal court over a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive. 

Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, of Wichita Falls attempted to purchase C-4 plastic explosives from an undercover FBI agent as part of a plan to blow up one of Amazon's data centers, according to the FBI. Pendley allegedly said he wanted to kill off "about 70% of the internet" and bring down the "oligarchy." In the criminal complaint, an FBI agent who was part of the investigation said Pendley also bragged about being at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot

According to the complaint, the investigation began when a concerned citizen shared with the FBI screenshots of Pendley's posts about his alleged plan, from a pro-militia website. 

"In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers," said Acting US Attorney Prerak Shah. "The Justice Department is determined to apprehend domestic extremists who intend to commit violence, no matter what political sentiment drives them to do so."

An Amazon Web Services spokesperson thanked the FBI in a statement. "We take the safety and security of our staff and customer data incredibly seriously, and constantly review various vectors for any potential threats," the spokesperson said. "We will continue to retain this vigilance about our employees and customers."

Amazon has been the subject of ire from supporters of the Jan. 6 riots, especially after the company stopped providing cloud services to right-wing social media platform Parler following the insurrection. Several posts Amazon cited in court documents as violations of its terms of use included threats toward Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and calls to bomb Amazon facilities and delivery trucks.

There's no indication that Pendley used Parler. According to the complaint, Pendley believed his planned explosion would prompt a tyrannical response from the US government, inspiring more people to join his anti-government cause.

After the FBI received screenshots of Pendley's posts, made under the username Dionysus, an informant helped identify Pendley, the complaint says. An undercover agent spoke with the suspect on Signal to learn about his intentions to get explosives and take out servers Pendley believed supplied internet service to federal agencies. The FBI also used subpoenaed private Facebook messages and reports from physical surveillance as evidence.

After officers arrested Pendley on Thursday, they searched his home and allegedly found hand-drawn maps, notes and flash cards relating to his plan, as well as part of an automatic rifle, a pistol painted to look like a toy gun, wigs, masks and a machete with the word "Dionysus" written on it.