USA, seized 150 crypto accounts used to finance terrorism
USA, seized 150 crypto accounts used to finance terrorism

USA, seized 150 crypto accounts used to finance terrorism

By Eleonora Spagnolo - 14 Aug 2020

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Organizations like Al Qaeda used crypto to finance their actions for terrorism. This was discovered by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) which proceeded with a huge seizure of accounts and cryptocurrencies linked to three of the most dangerous terrorist organizations:

  • the Al-Qassam Brigades, 
  • the military wing of Hamas, al-Qaeda, 
  • the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)

Specifically, the authorities have managed to seize millions of dollars and 300 cryptocurrency accounts. In addition to four websites and four Facebook pages.

What emerged from the investigation is that terrorist organizations have become very technological and able to use social networks to finance themselves, along with digital currencies of course. 

Isis, Al Qaeda and crypto

Looking at the cases one by one, it emerges that, for example, the Al-Qassam brigades began to raise funds through social network appeals in 2019, asking for donations in bitcoin, certain that they could not be traced

On their websites they offered all the instructions to make the donations, helping even the less experienced people. 

However, the investigators tracked down the donations and donors, seizing four websites and 150 cryptocurrency accounts

Al Qaeda, on the other hand, apparently used Telegram and other social media to make appeals and receive donations in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to carry out their terrorist objectives. In reality, they pretended to operate as a charity, whose purpose, however, was completely violent. US agents who pretended to be donors contacted one of the managers of “Reminder for Syria”; a supposedly charitable organization, who told them that they wanted to destroy the United States.

Anyway, Al Qaeda and its affiliates proved to be very competent (but not enough) in using techniques to hide transactions. Nevertheless, the affair culminated in the seizure of 155 crypto accounts.

Last but not least, ISIS did not choose Bitcoin but rather financed itself by selling non-compliant protection masks, passing them off as compliant. Given the emergency triggered by Covid-19, it is easy to imagine the volume of business generated.

The comment of the authorities

Attorney General William P. Barr commented:

“It should not surprise anyone that our enemies use modern technology, social media platforms and cryptocurrency to facilitate their evil and violent agendas. The Department of Justice will employ all available resources to protect the lives and safety of the American public from terrorist groups. We will prosecute their money laundering, terrorist financing and violent illegal activities wherever we find them. And, as announced today, we will seize the funds and the instrumentalities that provide a lifeline for their operations whenever possible”.

 Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin added:

“Terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies. IRS-CI special agents in the DC cybercrimes unit work diligently to unravel these financial networks,.Today’s actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to holding malign actors accountable for their crimes”.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf recounted:  

“After launching investigations that identified suspected online payments being funneled to and in support of terrorist networks, Homeland Security Investigations skillfully leveraged their cyber, financial, and trade investigative expertise to disrupt and dismantle cyber-criminal networks that sought to fund acts of terrorism against the United States and our allies. Together with our federal law enforcement partners, the Department will utilize every resource available to ensure that our Homeland is and remains secure”.

Significant are the statements made by incumbent US Attorney Michael R. Sherwin:  

“While these individuals believe they operate anonymously in the digital space, we have the skill and resolve to find, fix and prosecute these actors under the full extent of the law”.

This was reiterated by Don Fort, head of the IRS Criminal Investigation:

“IRS-CI’s ability to trace funds used by terrorist groups to their source and dismantle these radical group’s communication and financial networks directly prevents them from wreaking havoc throughout the world,” said Don Fort, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation. “Today the world is a safer place”.

Finally, as explained by representatives of the FBI and ICE, the fight against terrorism is not over: all efforts will be made to combat extremist organizations and to trace and crush the ways in which they are financed. Even those that employ cyber-terrorist techniques and cryptocurrencies.

Eleonora Spagnolo

Journalist passionate about the web and the digital world. She graduated with honours in Multimedia Publishing at the University La Sapienza in Rome and completed a master's degree in Web and Social Media Marketing.

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