During her captivity, Ayling told Italian investigators 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, according to testimony Ayling gave to authorities.
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 Italian police and media accounts.
Ayling was freed by her abductors on July 17 after being dropped off at the British consulate in Milan, police said.
“I’ve been through a terrifying experience. I’ve feared for my life, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour,” Ayling told Italy's RAI News outside her mother’s home in Coulsdon in south London.
“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 is represented by a British glamour modeling agency, described her abduction to Italian authorities.
In her 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 their safe house.
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.
“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 instead her kidnappers were operating an elaborate scam. Ayling's Italian lawyer said it was a mystery to him why her abductor drove his victim to the British consulate.
According to 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 be 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.”
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica wondered aloud about the case.
“That the kidnapping was real or that she was doped with ketamine is not put into question by the investigators,” the newspaper reported, according to the Daily Mail. “But it is also tremendously true that many details do not add up.”