August 13, 2020

DOJ unseals forfeiture and AML complaints revealing the largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency from terrorist organizations

On August 13, 2020, the US Department of Justice announced that financial cyber-campaigns of three terrorist organizations were dismantled, in a coordinated effort between the DOJ, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, resulting in three forfeiture complaints and a money laundering conspiracy charge unsealed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.  US authorities seized millions of dollars and over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, resulting in one of the largest seizures ever, of cryptocurrency accounts from terrorist organizations.  Authorities also seized four websites and four Facebook pages related to terror finance campaigns.

The DOJ reports that all three terror groups – the Hamas-related al-Qassam Brigades, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levan (ISIS) – used sophisticated cyber-tools and social media sites to advertise their cryptocurrency fundraising campaigns.  The money laundering conspiracy charge was against two Turkish individuals who are accused of laundering funds for the al-Qassam Brigades’ campaign while operating an unlicensed money service business.

According to the complaint, the al-Qassam Brigades campaign began in 2019 with social media requests for bitcoin donations, with the group boasting that bitcoin was untraceable, and offering video instruction on how to make donations anonymously.  Al-Qaeda and affiliated terror groups based mostly in Syria, operated a similar bitcoin money laundering network in 2019 that, according to the complaint, utilized social media platforms to solicit cryptocurrency donations, while in many instances posing as charities.  Finally, an ISIS facilitator, Murat Cakar, created a website in 2020, that claimed to sell FDA approved N95 surgical respirator masks to customers around the world – masks that were fakes and not FDA approved. The DOJ reports that Cakar’s website and four Facebook pages that were used to facilitate the scheme were seized, not only to protect the public from fake protective gear, but also to prevent the flow of funds to ISIS.

DOJ Press Release | DOJ Forfeiture Complaints | DOJ Criminal Complaint | DOJ Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint