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Crime

US millionaire built secret tunnels because he feared North Korean missiles. Now he’s charged with murder of man hired to dig them

Daniel Beckwitt, a conspiracy theorist, recruited Askia Khafra to build tunnels with the promise of payment enough to start his own company

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2018, 2:39am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2018, 8:27pm

A US millionaire will appear in court on Friday charged in the murder of a man recruited to build tunnels at his home near the US capital for protection against North Korea.

Daniel Beckwitt, a conspiracy theorist and millionaire stock trader, has posted a US$100,000 bond and will be released from detention on Monday morning.

Beckwitt, 27, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death in September 2017 of Askia Khafra, 21.

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Khafra died when a fire broke out in the basement as he dug a tunnel under the home where Beckwitt lived in Bethesda, Maryland, a Washington suburb.

Beckwitt is “an unusual individual,” his lawyer Robert Bonsib told court on Thursday when a grand jury indicted the millionaire.

Beckwitt, set to appear in court on June 8, sought to “create a secure bunker because of his concern about international tensions, North Korea, intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Bonsib said.

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WRC-TV showed earlier footage of what it said was Beckwitt – his identity hidden under a shiny gold outfit and hood resembling a firefighter’s protective suit – addressing a computer hacking convention.

Beckwitt spoke of “legislative creepings by our misguided government toward the Orwellian tyranny … powered by signals intelligence.”

Khafra reportedly met Beckwitt through social media, and was told “if he digs in this tunnel, day and night, and sleeps in this tunnel, and eats in this tunnel, and goes to the bathroom in buckets in this tunnel, he will be compensated financially so he can start his dream company,” Montgomery County assistant state’s lawyer Doug Wink told the court.

Beckwitt allegedly took a rental car to pick up Khafra at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, drove him to Manassas, Virginia, had him place “darkened, blackout glasses” on his face that kept him from seeing and told him he was taking him to a job site in Virginia.

Instead, according to detectives, Beckwitt drove Khafra to his home in Bethesda, led him to the basement and only then allowed him to remove the blackout glasses.

The tunnels reportedly began at the base of a 3-metre shaft below the basement and branched out about 60 metres.

According to the affidavit in the criminal case, firefighters and police officers responded to the Bethesda home at 4:23pm on September 10 for a call about a house fire.

They found fire in the basement and Beckwitt outside the home. He told them that someone was in the basement.

It was there, according to the affidavit, that investigators found Khafra’s body.

“Fire investigators discovered a hole in the concrete basement floor, which led to an underground tunnel complex underneath the basement,” Montgomery detective Michele Smith wrote in the affidavit, signed May 25.

According to an affidavit, detectives built much of their case based on two significant conditions in the house.

The first involved “hoarding” conditions that would have made it difficult for anyone to escape quickly.

Smith wrote that investigators found “immense piles of garbage and discarded items strewn throughout the entire home.”

She said there were “narrow, mazelike pathways throughout, which significantly prevented normal ease of movement within the home.”

Authorities also alleged that the tunnel complex required “substantial electrical needs” that “were served by a haphazard, daisy-chain of extension cords and plug extenders that created a substantial risk of fire.”

“You were essentially acting in a way that you were disregarding human life,” Montgomery County state’s lawyer John McCarthy said.

Khafra died during a period of high tension between the United States and North Korea, leading to fears of war over that country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

Agence France-Presse, The Washington Post