A young model goes to a studio for a shoot arranged through her agency — and then suddenly awakens in a suitcase, bound for a sex-slave auction via the so-called “dark web.” That sounds somewhat similar to the plot of the movie Taken, but it also allegedly happened to Chloe Ayling, a British model who managed to talk her way out of the plot. Police have a suspect in custody, and now they have to unlock the mystery of Ayling’s abduction and roll up the human trafficking network, if it exists:

Milan police official Lorenzo Bucossi told reporters on Saturday that Ayling had come to Milan for what she thought was a photo shoot and was abducted on July 11. A statement from Milan police headquarters detailed her horrific experience, and announced the arrest of a Polish man in connection with it.

“Attacked, drugged, handcuffed and closed inside a suitcase, that’s how a 20-year-old English model was kidnapped on July 11 in Milan to be sold to the best offer,” the statement said.

On July 18, the day after he allegedly released Ayling and dropped her off at the British consulate in Milan, the suspect, 30-year-old Lukasz Pawel Herba, a Polish citizen with British residency, was taken into custody. The Milan police said he was jailed for investigation of suspected kidnapping for extortion purposes.

Bucossi, of the Milan police, said in announcing Herba’s arrest that the suspect of the “very serious crime is a dangerous person,” noting that he had threatened to kill Ayling if she failed to abide by the rules dictated by the criminal gang that alleged captured her.

CNN reports that the police are still trying to get the straight story from the suspect. Did he make the whole thing up just to get more money out of Ayling’s agent, or are there other young women who have disappeared into the “dark web” after encountering Herba?

According to CNN’s written report, Italian police have found the suspect’s auction on the dark web, but have not established that he had the means to conduct it:

Italian investigators have since established that the suspect had already organized several online auctions for the sale of kidnapped girls, referring to them as “prey.”

The websites for the auctions included a description of the victim and a starting price but police said it was still unclear whether the suspect had made them up.

Authorities said they are searching for at least one more person in connection with the kidnapping.

Ayling has stated that the reason she got released rather than sold is because she recently had a baby, and that the trafficking ring has a “code” against selling mothers. That seems a little odd, considering the utter lack of ethics in human trafficking, but perhaps that might be more about security than respect for motherhood. If a young woman (or man, for that matter) with no attachments goes missing, it might not be taken seriously immediately. On the other hand, if a mother of a baby or young child goes missing, police would quickly surmise that it’s probably not just a case of someone wanting a few days away from everyone. It seems doubtful in the extreme that Herba only had an attack of conscience in this case.

Italian state police are taking this seriously, of course, as are police in the UK and Poland. On their Twitter feed, a police officer demonstrates how Herba hid Ayling in a suitcase, and share a posting from the “Black Death Group” from the dark web:

The group advertised her with a picture that included a sales pitch on her stomach, and told her that she’d likely be going to an Arab country:

An online advert reported to have been published by a group called Black Death showed a photograph of Ms Ayling curled up with a calling card on her stomach offering “sexual services”.

It listed her details as: “Born in the 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.” …

“He [one of the alleged kidnappers] told me … That he alone had earned more than €15m (£13.5m) in the last five years and explained to me that all the girls are destined for the Arab countries,” the paper reported she said.

Herba didn’t give her much hope for a rescue after the sale took place:

“When the buyer gets tired of the girl bought by auction [they] can give them to other people, and when it is no longer of interest they are to become a ‘tiger meal’.”

How much of this is real, and how much is out of Herba’s imagination? The dark-web ad is real, and it takes some sophistication to pull off a fake photo shoot that would fool an agency. Some of this could have been fodder to get Ayling to cooperate with a more traditional kidnap-for-ransom plot too, but … that seems a little extraordinary, and there’s nothing so far to suggest that Ayling made a particularly good target for such a plot, such as vast personal/family wealth or celebrity status.

If this is on the level, then Ayling can’t have been the first young woman victimized by this. Western nations should start pressing their allies for answers on this, and review cases of missing women who may have worked in the modeling industry. And just as the movie Taken suggested, young women traveling to less-familiar destinations need to exercise caution and perhaps travel with companions who can provide the security of numbers.