The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday it had disrupted three terrorist-financing cryptocurrency campaigns associated with Al Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS), and the Hamas-affiliated Al Qassam Brigades.
U.S. authorities seized “millions” of dollars from over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages associated with the terror financing efforts, according to a DOJ press release Thursday.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, “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,” Barr continued. “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.”
The Internal Revenue Service, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the prosecutors from the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office and National Security Division all participated in the effort to take down the terror financing sites.
“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,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said. “Today’s actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to holding malign actors accountable for their crimes.”
The Al Qaeda sites included a money-laundering system that solicited Bitcoin donations through social media sites like Telegram. The donations were going to fund the terror group’s continuing operations in Syria.
In addition to financing terror operations, other ISIS sites taken down in the DOJ action included links to sites that sold fake face masks during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The ISIS website claimed to sell FDA approved N95 respirator masks, though they were in fact not FDA approved. The site administrators also claimed to have near unlimited supplies of the masks, despite the global scarcity of the masks. The site administrators offered to sell these items to customers across the globe, including a customer in the United States who sought to purchase N95 masks and other protective equipment for hospitals, nursing homes, and fire departments.
The DOJ also charged U.S. individuals who donated to the Hamas-affiliated Al Qassam Brigades accounts.
Funds seized by the DOJ are may be directed either in whole or in part to the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST). The fund provides direct compensations for the U.S. victims of terrorist attacks.