Two Russians arrested in Iceland’s big bitcoin heist

Could two shipping containers lead to the $2 million in stolen bitcoin mining servers?

Police in Iceland have arrested two Russian nationals after finding two suspicious shipping containers with two huge electrical cables leading to the Westman Islands off the coast of the mainland. Police also have two more Icelandic men in custody on the mainland. The small island nation has been on high alert since a string of break-ins caused $2 million in bitcoin mining computers to go missing.

A source at ON Power, Iceland’s largest energy producer, tells us these cables are powerful enough to run the stolen mining rig made up of 600 servers. Previously, 11 people including one security guard—all Icelanders—were arrested in connection with the case. 

Cryptocurrency networks depend on Iceland’s abundant renewable energy and natural cooling temperature to run their massive server farms. Experts estimate that next year crypto companies like Genesis Mining will use more electricity than the entire population combined uses in their homes.

All of this is a lot of commotion for the sleepy island nation of only 334,000 people—a third of whom live in the capital city of Reykjavík, roughly the population of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Crime is usually low and trust is high. “I accidentally left my door unlocked and went out of town the other weekend,” Margrét Erla Maack, an Icelandic actress, told us. “Nothing happened.”

But a slew of daytime home invasions have created the highest crime rate since the Vikings. The Westman Islands are due west of Iceland’s largest volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. Heimaey, the largest of the islands at 5 miles square, has 4,500 people and “8 million puffins every summer.” It is Iceland’s Iceland.

An influx of tech money and new jobs have brought with it easily pilferable gadgets and laptops and other luxury goods. Thieves have been breaking into homes and leaving behind televisions and cars in favor of jewelry and tablets.

Even with its storied Viking past, Iceland didn’t have much to plunder until recently. “Iceland’s not exactly swimming in anything of value,” says James McMullen, a Canadian Museologist with an MA in Medieval Icelandic Studies from the University of Iceland.  

He did point out that the Western Islands were also home to that last large-scale sacking in Icelandic history. “There were the Tyrkjaránið—the Turkish Abductions—in the 1627, when Ottoman slavers, under the command of a Dutch pirate named Murat Reis, raided the place and kidnapped between 400 and 800 people, but that’s about it.”

The police in the Westman Islands did not want to confirm that the men had been arrested but the containers were being investigated by the police. Authorities have asked all internet providers, power companies and people who rent home, shipping containers, and storage facilities to be on the lookout for any increase in power usage. A source at ON Power confirms, “the Westman islands get their electricity from the mainland via cable in the ocean.”

The cops are being tight-lipped about whether this will lead to the $2 million in stolen goods. Police Officer Jón Halldór Sigurdsson did not want to inform in the media as the investigations are “at a delicate level.”

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Brendan Sullivan is a writer, producer, and author of the memoir Rivington Was Ours: Lady Gaga, the Lower East Side, and the Prime of Our Lives. Disclosure: he owns cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter.