The Justice Department announced the seizure of terrorism-related cryptocurrency on Thursday following the successful takedown of cyber-enabled finance networks operated by the Islamic State, Hamas’s al Qassam Brigades, and al Qaeda.
“These three terror finance campaigns all relied on sophisticated cyber-tools, including the solicitation of cryptocurrency donations from around the world,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “The action demonstrates how different terrorist groups have similarly adapted their terror finance activities to the cyber age. Each group used cryptocurrency and social media to garner attention and raise funds for their terror campaigns. Pursuant to judicially-authorized warrants, U.S. authorities seized millions of dollars, over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages all related to the criminal enterprise.”
The Justice Department, which has billed it the “largest ever seizure of terrorist organizations’ cryptocurrency accounts,” also unsealed three civil forfeiture complaints totaling 87 pages detailing efforts by Homeland Security Investigations, the IRS Criminal Investigations, and the FBI to take down a host of terrorist websites and to seize numerous bank accounts and hundreds of cryptocurrency accounts. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia also unsealed a 14-page criminal affidavit charging Turkish nationals Mehmet Akti and Husamettin Karatas for allegedly operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and engaging in money laundering, including to assist terrorist groups. And the Justice Department said ISIS engaged in coronavirus-related fraud to raise money for their terrorist operations.
Attorney General William Barr said that “it should not surprise anyone that our enemies use modern technology, social media platforms and cryptocurrency to facilitate their evil and violent agendas” and added that the Justice Department “will employ all available resources to protect the lives and safety of the American public from terrorist groups,” including going after their money laundering efforts and terrorist financing worldwide. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI would continue to “combat illicit terrorist financing regardless of platform or method employed by our adversaries” and the bureau “remains committed to cutting off the financial lifeblood of these organizations that seek to harm Americans at home and abroad.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that “terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies.” He added that his department’s investigators “work diligently to unravel these financial networks.” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said his the agency’s investigators “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.”
The Justice Department said its anti-ISIS complaint targeted ISIS facilitator and hacking manager Murat Cakar, who allegedly ran a fraudulent website falsely claiming to sell personal protective equipment in an effort to raise money for ISIS, even offering to sell fake N95 respirator masks and other protective equipment to a customer in the U.S. who was seeking the PPE on behalf of hospitals, nursing homes, and fire departments. The U.S. seized Cakar’s website, and the DOJ said that it “has averted the further victimization of those seeking COVID-19 protective gear, and disrupted the continued funding of ISIS.“
The DOJ said its anti-Hamas operation was spurred by a 2019 call by the al Qassam Brigades on its social media page for bitcoin donations to fund its terrorist operations, with the group later setting up a series of websites to raise what they claimed were untraceable and anonymous bitcoin donations to help fund violent operations. But FBI, HSI, and IRS agents worked together to break up the operation, seize the websites, and redirect terrorist donations to bitcoin wallets operated by the U.S.
Investigators said the American anti-al Qaeda actions targeted a terrorist scheme based largely out of Syria where al Qaeda members used Telegram channels and social media to go after cryptocurrency donations to fund their terrorist activities, including using alleged charities such as Reminder for Syria as fronts to solicit money for terrorist attacks. The administrator for that group spoke with undercover HSI agents, telling them he hoped for the destruction of the U.S. and discussing the price of surface-to-air missiles. Investigators broke the scheme apart and are seeking to seize 155 virtual currency assets related to the terror campaign.
The Justice Department’s announcement of its major anti-terrorist financing operations came the same day that President Trump announced a historic agreement normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the People’s
Author: Jerry Dunleavy
Source: Washington Examiner: DOJ targets Hamas, al Qaeda, and ISIS in ‘largest ever’ terror-related crypto seizure