Justice Department announces seizure of millions in cryptocurrency meant for terror groups

A Bitcoin logo is seen on a cryptocurrency ATM in Santa Monica, California, U.S., January 4. File Photo: Reuters /Lucy Nicholson

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced Thursday it had seized millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency meant to fund al-Qaida, the Islamic State, and the military arm of Hamas – the largest such crackdown on online terrorist fundraising.

In addition to seizing funds, U.S. officials said they also obtained court orders to seize 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages used for the alleged terror fundraising.

“Terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

One fundraising network sought to help al-Qaida groups largely based in Syria, officials said. The organizations, according to the government’s court filing, laundered bitcoin using Telegram messaging channels and other social media platforms and solicited donations for the cause. In some cases, the appeal for donations was couched as charity work when their messages made clear they were seeking money to buy weapons, the filing said.

In another case, authorities charge that Murat Cakar worked as a “facilitator” for Islamic State, and ran a coronavirus-related scam purporting to sell protective masks online.

A third case announced Thursday involved a complex investigation of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. U.S. officials say al-Qassam posted a call on its social media page for bitcoin donations, saying such donations were untraceable and would be used for violent causes.

Federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security, IRS and FBI traced the funds back, and ultimately seized 150 accounts tied to the al-Qassam fundraising effort.

The agents also got a court order to seize the al-Qassam websites and covertly receive and redirect donations to the group.



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