LONDON — A British model who police say was kidnapped in Italy to be auctioned online through the “deep dark Web” told reporters outside her home Monday that she was lucky to be alive — and praised authorities for saving her.
Chloe Ayling was abducted July 11 by at least two men after she was lured from London to a phony photo shoot at an abandoned storefront in Milan, according to Italian police.
During her captivity, she was drugged, gagged, bound, stuffed into a duffel bag and driven in the trunk of car to a remote farmhouse outside Turin, where she slept tied hand and foot to furniture, police say.
While she was being held, her abductors were allegedly preparing her for “auction” on the dark Web, a corner of the Internet where user identities are masked — by encryption and subterfuge — to buy and sell illicit goods.
Her kidnappers, reportedly members of a cybercrime crew calling itself “Black Death Group,” sought to sell her via the Internet as a sex slave for $300,000, according to police.
Ayling was freed by her abductors on July 17 after being dropped off at the British consulate in Milan.
“I’ve been through a terrifying experience. I’ve feared for my life, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour,” she told reporters outside her mother’s home in Coulsdon in south London, according to the Independent.
“I’m incredibly grateful to the Italian and U.K. authorities for all they have done to secure my safe release,” Ayling said. “I have just arrived home after four weeks and haven’t had time to collect my thoughts. I am not at liberty to say anything further until I have been debriefed by the U.K. police.”
The 20-year-old, who was represented by a British modeling agency and whose Instagram account featured her posing in swimsuits and lingerie, described her abduction to Italian authorities.
In a statement to police, published by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Ayling said: “A person wearing black gloves came up from behind and put one hand on my neck and the other on my mouth, while a second person, wearing a black balaclava, injected me in my right arm.”
“I think I lost consciousness. When I woke up I was wearing a pink bodysuit and the socks I’m in now. I realized I was in the boot of a car, with my wrists and ankles tied and my mouth taped. I was inside a bag, with only a small hole that allowed me to breathe.”
She said she struggled and screamed so loud, her abductors had to pull over three times to silence her on their way to safe house.
Her agent, Phil Green of Supermodels Agency, said his client was being interviewed on Monday by the British police and the Foreign Office, according to the East Lothian Courier.
Shortly after Ayling was freed, Italian police arrested a 30-year-old Polish national who lives part-time in England. Lukasz Pawel Herba was charged with kidnapping, said Lorenzo Bucossi, the head of the Milan Police Mobile Command unit.
In a television interview, Bucossi described Herba as “a dangerous person.”
“He was a killer and was working for an organization of the ‘deep Web,’ which offers services such as attacks with bombs, kidnapping, selling of girls through the deep dark Web,” he added.
Investigators from the East Midlands Special Operations Unit searched Herba’s house in Oldbury outside of Birmingham and seized computer equipment.
Italian media speculated it was also possible that Ayling would not really be “auctioned” but her kidnappers were operating an elaborate scam.
According to authorities, cited by British and Italian reporters, Ayling was freed after her kidnappers learned that she was the mother of a 2-year-old boy.
The Mail Online published a document that purports to the auction notice for Ayling, which boasts, “Girls can be transported globally, we have contractors for that, for a price … E.U. delivery is free, might take time dependent on current location and drop-off point.”
It describes a captive, believed to be Ayling, as “Born in UK; Abducted in Italy; Held in Germany; 19 year old; Caucasian; 34DD-25-35; Beginner model; Starting bid $300,000. Auction takes place 16.7.2017”
Other suspects are being sought, authorities said.
Ayling’s lawyer in Italy, Francesco Pesce, told the Guardian: “I hope they find them soon as this could be very dangerous for other girls. This was a massive investigation that was carried out quickly; the police have worked very hard.”
Pesce said, “She suffered a lot. It was an awful experience … and to believe that she would never see her family again.”