The United States Department of Justice today announced that it has seized millions of dollars in Bitcoin in possession of the terrorist groups Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and Hamas’s military division the al-Qassam Brigades.
According to a release, the funds were obtained by the groups via social media campaigns designed to anonymously raise money from around the world. The government seized more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts, along with four websites and four Facebook pages tied to the social media and fundraising efforts.
This is the US government’s single-largest seizure of terrorism-related cryptocurrency to date, according to the DOJ’s statement.
“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,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, in a release. “Today’s actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to holding malign actors accountable for their crimes.”
The Justice Department unsealed three forfeiture complaints and a criminal complaint today that detail the scope of the operation, which required the collaboration of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the prosecutors from the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office and National Security Division.
The al-Qassam Brigades campaign began online in early 2019, with its pages claiming that Bitcoin donations were “untraceable and would be used for violent causes,” according to the Justice Department’s release. They also showed methods on how those sending Bitcoin could potentially better cover their tracks.
However, law enforcement agencies were able to trace the donations, not only seizing 150 accounts that laundered money but also executing search warrants against US-based individuals that donated to the campaign.
The al-Qaeda campaign, based largely out of Syria the complaint alleges, often claimed to be a charity but was designed to outfit Syrian terrorists with weapons. The complaint seeks the forfeiture of 155 cryptocurrency accounts associated with the organization.
Meanwhile, the ISIS campaign actually crosses over with the Justice Department’s efforts to combat COVID-19 related fraud, as a website by “ISIS facilitator” Murat Cakar sold fraudulent N95 masks and would funnel the income towards the terrorist group. In its release, the US Department of Justice shared images of websites and social media campaigns that led to the forfeitures and criminal complaint.