US authorities today said they have located and seized a collection of bitcoin accounts that belong to three terrorist groups in the largest seizure of that cryptocurrency ever, worth millions of dollars at current exchange rates.
The forfeiture complaints that were unsealed in a Washington federal court involve the military wing of Hamas, in addition to al-Qaeda and ISIS. The jihadist movements and some other violent jihad-related groups have been locked out of the traditional financial system. But over the last few years they developed an increasingly sophisticated campaign to raise money using Bitcoin, the US Justice Department said.
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The crackdown included different terror finance campaigns that allegedly operated more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites and four Facebook pages.
The statement further states that federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security, Internal Revenue Service, and the FBI have seized the cryptocurrencies raised by Hamas military wing, known as Qassam Brigades.
The militant Palestinian group pushed for more anonymous donations, setting up a dedicated website for Bitcoin fundraising where every visitor is given a unique address to send the digital currency, a method that makes the donations nearly impossible for law enforcement to track.
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Nevertheless, members of Hamas were seemingly just as gullible to crypto attacks as the average user, with most of their collected caught out by elaborate schemes by the US feds. The FBI, according to the government’s court filing, hacked Qassam Brigades’ website for some time by getting hold of 150 accounts and ultimately transferred the bitcoins to an address controlled by the US government.
Federal law enforcement officials also said Thursday they targeted a Syria-based group tied to al-Qaeda terrorists. The court papers show that they set up Telegram messaging channels and other social media platforms that explain how to acquire and send Bitcoin without tipping off the authorities.
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“In some instances, they purported to act as charities when, in fact, they were openly and explicitly soliciting funds for violent terrorist attacks. For example, one post from a charity sought donations to equip terrorists in Syria with weapons,” the department said.
While the feds managed to trace back and have its hands on Hamas’ funds, they were unable to take a chunk of the crypto fortunes that belong to al-Qaeda and ISIS groups, which some reports claim they are holding a $300 million bitcoin war chest.
In another case, authorities indicted two Turkish nationals, Mehmet Akti and Hüsamettin Karatas, on charges of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. The final complaint highlighted a scheme operated by an ISIS facilitator named Murat Cakar who allegedly managed select ISIS hacking operations. The Turkish national raised money for affiliated terrorist groups through selling fake personal protective equipment via FaceMaskCenter.com.
“Today’s announcement detailing these enforcement actions targeting foreign terrorist organizations is yet another example of the Department’s commitment to our mission. After launching investigations that identified suspected online payments being funneled to and in support of terrorist networks, Homeland Security Investigations 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. Together with our federal law enforcement partners, the Department will utilize every resource available to ensure that our Homeland is and remains secure ,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.