US makes biggest seizure yet in terrorist cryptocurrency probe

American secret agents confiscate $2m earmarked for use in violent plots by terror groups

FILE - In this March 22, 2019 file photo, an American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington.  The Justice Department has seized millions of dollars from cryptocurrency accounts that militant organization abroad, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, relied on to raise money for their operations, officials announced Thursday.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Undercover US agents have infiltrated and taken down fund-raising operations used by ISIS, Al Qaeda and the military wing of Hamas to raise millions of dollars in cryptocurrency for weapons and to finance terrorist attacks.

The US Justice Department said agents had seized about $2 million (Dh7.3m) in the largest seizure of terrorist cryptocurrency accounts. They also took over 300 cryptocurrency sites, four websites and four Facebook pages.

During the final stages of the operation, agents ran an undercover website that mirrored one operated by Hamas for 30 days.

The terrorist moneymaking programmes included a scheme by an ISIS hacker to raise money for the group by selling face masks to combat Covid-19. He took credit card and PayPal payments for protective equipment for US hospitals and nursing homes but never delivered, investigators said.

Investigators seized 150 cryptocurrency accounts alone connected to Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades. It had posted a call for Bitcoin donations on its social media page in 2019 and claimed that all donations were untraceable and offered video instructions on how to make payments, the US authorities said.

The operators of the accounts had thought they would be protected by encryption, investigators said. Prosecutors also revealed criminal charges against two Turkish men accused of laundering the funds.

One agent posing as a terrorist sympathiser communicated with the administrator of a charity called Reminder for Syria that was seeking Bitcoin donations.

“The administrator stated that he hoped for the destruction of the United States, discussed the price of funding surface-to-air missiles and warned about possible criminal consequences” from launching an attack in the US, the department said on Thursday.

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

The seized funds were expected to be turned over to a fund for victims of terrorist attacks.