On August 13, the Justice Department announced what it considers the “largest-ever seizure of terrorist-associated cryptocurrency accounts.” The department halted several cyber-enabled campaigns funding terrorists groups including Hamas’s military wing- Al-Qaeda, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and the al Qassam brigades.
The three terror groups leveraged cryptocurrencies and social media platforms to get the public’s attention and initiate fundraising. The Justice Department disclosed that it laid hold of millions of dollars, more than 300 crypto-based accounts, and four Facebook pages controlled by the terrorist groups.
Terrorists Venture into Technology Use
Technology is the basis for developments in current societies for manageable activities and other benefits. In that case, even terror groups can utilize the same to control their enterprises. Rising threats of terror attacks are never-ending. Technology helps them have better organization of attacks, giving them an element of surprise and building more lethal weapons.
Through social media, they raise awareness of their cause and recruitment of more members. Through cryptocurrencies, they get untraceable funds from Jihad supporters. Cyber enablement helps then to conduct cyber-attacks, a modern way to oppress their targets. Furthermore, it facilitates information collection, software distribution (e.g., the Tashfeer al-Jawwal and Amn al-Mujahid), and discreet online training.
Details on the Campaigns
The three groups leveraged sophisticated instruments to sustain their campaigns. Al-Qassam’s crypto donation campaign began in 2019 on social media, asking for bitcoin donations for sympathizers. They aired that this avenue was untraceable and would go into their cause. They later provided a video on how to send funds anonymously through generating unique bitcoin addresses. The covert operation by IRS-CI, FBI, and HSI took control of the 150 accounts laundering money for the organization. Two Turkish offenders will face charges on the same account.
Syrian-based Al Qaeda operated bitcoin funding through Telegram and other social media platforms. The group posed as a charity fundraising with some issuing the urgency of supporting terrorism through bitcoin donations, aiming for the destruction of the U.S. The Defense Department worked to seize 155 accounts, based on these campaigns.
Lastly, ISIS facilitator Murat Cakar used a COVID-19 fraud website to sell fake protective equipment. The party is further responsible for particular ISIS hackings for terrorism causes. The site claimed that the N95 masks they sold were FDA approved. Several people went ahead to seek this equipment for health centers and other institutions. The government seized the website and four Facebook accounts that advertised the sale.
The U.S. Government’s Initiative to Halt Terrorism Campaigns
According to a statement by Attorney General William P. Barr, the Department of Justice will input its resources to protect American lives from terror attacks and combat terrorism. He took into account the upgrades terrorists have made by using modern technology and cyber avenues. He further insisted that the government would cease funding into terrorism whenever possible and prosecute offenders.
Currently, the IRS-CI, HIS, and FBI are investigating the allegations surrounding the forfeitures. As mentioned in the announcement, other parties will help prosecute the case and find avenues for justice throughout the operation.