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Russian hackers arrested in Europe at behest of US

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Suspected Russian cybercriminals arrested in Europe at the behest of US spy agencies.

US spy organizations have assisted European law enforcement agencies detain five suspected Russian cybercriminals amid escalated tensions between Washington and Moscow over Kremlin’s alleged role in the 2016 US presidential election.

Donald Trump had vowed during the election campaign to officially recognize Crimea, which separated from Ukraine and joined Russia, as part of the Russian Federation.

Critics believe Trump's promise of recognition prompted Kremlin to help him win the election.

So far, however, there is no proven link between the suspected Russian hackers, Kremlin and the US presidential election.

Meantime, in the past nine months, the US orchestrated operations across Europe to identify, locate and arrest Russian hackers which Kremlin allegedly employed to help Trump win the race.

The most notorious of those arrested is Pyotr Levashov.

Levashov, 36, is described as a master spammer.

US prosecutors accuse Levashov of being "one of the world's most notorious criminal spammers."

Law enforcement and security researchers have linked Levashov, via his alias "Peter Severa," to a series of powerful botnets — networks of hijacked computers carrying names like Storm, Waledec and Kelihos and capable of pumping out more than a billion emails a day.

He was arrested in April in Barcelona by Spanish security forces.

He is currently fighting extradition to the US.

Second in line is Evgeny Nikulin.

Nikulin,29, is accused by US prosecutors of penetrating computers at Silicon Valley firms including LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012, around the time both companies reported massive breaches affecting tens of millions of users.

He was arrested at a Prague restaurant in October and is currently appealing the decision of a Czech court to OK his extradition. Russia has lodged a counter-extradition request in a bid to bring him home.

Alexander Vinnik, 38, is accused by US prosecutors of running of major bitcoin exchange that "helped to launder criminal proceeds from syndicates around the world." He was arrested earlier this week on the grounds of his hotel near Ouranoupolis in northern Greece — an area popular with Russian tourists.

Vinnik, who was on vacation with his wife and two young children, was distracted by an innocuous question from a policeman while a second officer came up from the side and snatched his phone. The exchange he's alleged to have run, BTC-e, is currently out of commission.

Stanislav Lisov, 31, is accused by US prosecutors of developing malicious software called NeverQuest which stole information on banking clients and financial websites and caused almost $1 million in losses in the United States. Lisov, from the small resort town of Taganrog in southern Russia, was detained at Barcelona airport in January while in the middle of a European honeymoon. He has said he was formerly employed by IT company Ogetto that did work for the Russian government. Lisov had an extradition hearing in Madrid last week and is awaiting a ruling.

The fifth suspected cybercriminal wanted by the US is Yury Martyshev.

The 35-year-old is accused of running a "counter antivirus service" where cybercriminals could test whether their malware would be blocked by computer security products.

He has already been extradited to the US from Latvia after being detained on a train from Russia in April.

He recently pleaded not guilty before a judge in Alexandria, Virginia.

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