Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations

The Justice Department on Thursday announced that the federal government had seized and dismantled the cyber-enabled cryptocurrency efforts of three major terrorist groups, describing the process as the largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency with ties to terrorist activities. 

U.S. authorities seized millions of dollars, more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites and four Facebook accounts associated with the cryptocurrency schemes run by al Qaeda, ISIS and the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.

The cryptocurrency schemes relied on social media posts and were intended to help raise money and awareness for the terrorist groups. 

Attorney General William Barr said in a statement Thursday that “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,” he added. “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.”

As part of the actions, the al-Qassam Brigades campaign is alleged to have begun posting on social media in early 2019 asking for bitcoin donations to fund its operations, while also requesting bitcoin funds on its official websites. The group allegedly told individuals sending bitcoin that the funds would not be used for violent causes and that the donations would be anonymous. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia brought criminal charges against two Turkish individuals, Mehmet Akti and Hüsamettin Karataş, for allegedly laundering funds as part of an unlicensed monetary business in connection with the al-Qassam Brigades Campaign, or Hamas. 

The al Qaeda cyber-enabled campaign, based out of Syria, allegedly requested bitcoin donations through social media posts, in some cases saying they were soliciting the funds for charities, but instead using the funds to purchase weapons. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia also filed a civil complaint against the website and the four Facebook pages involved. 

The ISIS campaign allegedly raised funds through creating a website and several Facebook pages posing as a COVID-19 mask production company that claimed to have an unlimited supply of N95 masks. One customer in the U.S. contacted the group trying to buy masks for nursing homes, hospitals and fire departments, according to the Justice Department. 

Multiple agencies participated in disrupting the cryptocurrency schemes, including the Treasury and the Homeland Security departments, along with the FBI. 

Tags Chad Wolf Christopher Wray Steven Mnuchin William Barr

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