The US has accused an Islamic State hacker of selling fake personal protective equipment online during the coronavirus pandemic to provide funding for the terrorist organisation.
Murat Cakar, an Islamic State facilitator who managed some of the terrorist organisation’s hacking operations, allegedly sold fake personal protective equipment via the FaceMaskCenter.com website.
It comes as the US Department of Justice announced three large seizures of cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin – equivalent to about two million dollars – used by terrorist organisations, including Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the al Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.
It followed an investigation which stretched across multiple US agencies, including financial experts, cyber security specialists, as well as undercover operations and covert sources.
According to the DoJ: “Each [terrorist] group used cryptocurrency and social media to garner attention and raise funds for their terror campaigns.”
“Pursuant to judicially-authorised warrants, US authorities seized millions of dollars, over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages all related to the criminal enterprise,” the agency added.
“It should not surprise anyone that our enemies use modern technology, social media platforms and cryptocurrency to facilitate their evil and violent agendas,” said the US attorney general William Barr.
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“Terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies,” added Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary.
He added: “Today’s actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to holding malign actors accountable for their crimes.”
The cryptocurrency funds have been seized in a civil forfeiture action and will be directed to US funds for victims of state-sponsored terrorism.
Cakar, a Turkish citizen who has been of interest to the FBI since 2017, was accused of claiming to have an “unlimited” supply of FDA approved N95 respirator masks, when in fact the items were not FDA approved and not unlimited.
Al Qaeda affiliates, largely based out of Syria, “operated a bitcoin money laundering network using Telegram channels and other social media platforms to solicit cryptocurrency donations to further their terrorist goals,” according to the DoJ.
“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.”
Donations to the al Qassem Brigades were uncovered by US agents, seizing 150 cryptocurrency accounts that laundered funds to and from the al Qassam Brigades’ accounts.
The US took control of some cryptocurrency wallets being used by the al Qassam Brigades and held it for a month, receiving funds intended for the terrorist organisation.
As a result of this, law enforcement in the US “executed criminal search warrants relating to United States-based subjects who donated to the terrorist campaign,” the DoJ stated.