Spain: Judge jails suspect wanted by US in 2020 Twitter hack

Thursday, July 22, 2021 | Aritz Parra, Associated Press

MADRID (AP) — A British man wanted in the United States in connection with a Twitter hack that compromised dozens of influential accounts has been jailed in Spain while he awaits possible extradition.

Joseph O’Connor, 22, appeared before a Spanish National Court judge Thursday and refused to be transferred to the U.S. voluntarily, a court spokesman told The Associated Press.

U.S. prosecutors accuse O’Connor of involvement in a July 2020 hack of more than 130 accounts, including those of prominent politicians, celebrities and technology moguls.

A criminal complaint filed in federal court in the Northern District of California also charges O'Connor for allegedly taking over TikTok and Snapchat accounts, as well as cyberstalking a juvenile.

O’Connor has denied wrongdoing in previous interviews. No lawyers defending him could be located immediately.

The Madrid-based National Court handles extradition requests in Spain. A court spokesperson said Judge Santiago Pedraz considered the charges against O'Connor grave enough to warrant keeping him in custody and preventing him from trying to flee during the extradition process.

The spokesperson was not authorized to be named in media reports.

Extradition requests can take months to resolve and involve both a judicial review and the Spanish Cabinet's approval.

The FBI informed Spanish authorities about O’Connor’s alleged involvement in last year's hack, the National Police said in a press release. It said Spanish and U.S. agents took part in his arrest and search of the suspect’s residence, confiscating two computers and a mobile phone.

The U.S. criminal complaint charged O’Connor — who went by the online handle PlugWalkJoe — with crimes including cyberstalking, making extortive and threatening communications and intentionally accessing a computer without authorization.

During the high-profile security breach a year ago, fake tweets were sent from the accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Amazon’s then-CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The bogus tweets asked followers of high-profile accounts to send Bitcoin payments. O’Connor is at least the fourth suspect charged in connection with the hack.

Spain's National Police said Thursday that O'Connor was permanently residing in Marbella, another southern coastal city popular with foreign residents and that he had been on their radar at least since April 2020 as part of an alleged criminal group committing fraud online.

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