ISIS fundraising in US via bitcoin
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL /ˈaɪsəl/) is an Islamist rebel group that controls territory in Iraq and Syriaand also operates in eastern Libya, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The group's Arabic name is transliterated as ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-‘Irāq wash-Shām leading to the Arabic acronym Da‘ish or DAESH (Arabic pronuncation: da:ʕeʃ). The name is also commonly translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and abbreviated ISIS (/ˈaɪsɪs/). In June 2014 the group renamed itself the Islamic State (IS) but the new name has been widely criticized and condemned, with the UN, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups refusing to use it.
Move on to the heart of the matter An Israeli cyber intelligence analyst claims that ISIS is using the dark web and bitcoin for recruitment and fundraising. Unregulated system “gaps” could indeed be exploited by terrorists seeking refuge in the anonymous network, experts say.
Haaretz newspaper quoted an Israeli analyst who said he traced an ISIS funding website and “has uncovered concrete evidence that a terror cell, purporting to be related to the Islamic State – is soliciting for bitcoins as part of its fundraising efforts.”
The fundraiser reportedly called for the support of a “new Islamic front – both in the United States, and around the world.” It allegedly called for donations to be made through various means, all of which –“besides economic support through bitcoin” – should have been done with much caution “due to the security apparatus’ recent crackdown on any and all Islamic change fronts here in the United States.”
The analyst believes the finding could be pointing to a larger, more worrying trend of terrorists taking refuge in the anonymous network, as social media websites are increasing their efforts to shut down terror-related accounts.
Jimmy Gurule, the former under secretary of the Treasury Department under George W. Bush and an international criminal law expert on terrorism and terrorist financing, told RT that the allegation is possible.
“Bitcoin is currently not regulated, and so I think that it does present a risk to moving money for criminal purposes,” said Gurule. “And I think potentially the terrorists could have found a chink in the armor, or could have found a gap in our regulatory system that they may be exploiting.”
Gurule, however, was skeptical of the claim because any US citizen or anyone residing in the US who provides financial assistance to ISIS is subject to criminal prosecution for violating the material support statute and financing terrorism.
“If you’re going to be moving money, the terrorists are going to be looking for the point of least resistance, where it’s easier and there are less criminal and legal repercussions for moving money, and that’s certainly not in the United States,” he said.
He also raised the possibility that the source or sources used in the Haaretz report – as well as in another report earlier this week in Pakistani newspaper the Express Tribune which claimed that ISIS had received funding through the US – may be giving false information in order to create a phony lead.
Earlier this week, a suspected Pakistani commander of the Islamic State, Yousaf al Salafi, confessed to law enforcement agencies in Pakistan that ISIS is “getting funding – routed through America – to run the organization in Pakistan and recruit young people to fight in Syria.”
But most importantly, says Gurule, is that the Islamic State, unlike Al-Qaeda, is a self-funding organization and its principal source of funding comes from the sale of oil on the black market. ISIS also receives some money from ransom payments and extortion payments within the territory it controls.
“[ISIS] doesn’t rely on external sources of funding from sympathetic donors,” he said.
Gurule admitted, though, that “there is some concern regarding Qatar” as a source of funding for ISIS. He said it is an issue that the US government raises with the Qataris in official meetings.
At the same time there is no guarantee, he acknowledged, that money and weapons given to the “moderate” Syrian opposition by the US do not end up in the hands of ISIS, or other terrorist or Muslim extremist groups in the country.
According to other sources: A Tel Aviv analyst working for a Singapore-based cyber intelligence company says he has uncovered concrete evidence that a terror cell, purporting to be related to Islamic State and operating in the Americas, is soliciting for Bitcoins as part of its fundraising efforts.
There has long been evidence that terrorist cells use the Web — including the highly anonymous network found within the "dark web" which is not indexed or even seen by standard search engines — for both recruiting and fundraising purposes. Concerns have also been voiced that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, might begin using Bitcoin — the underground digital web currency that allows for anonymous transactions.
But this is the first time, says analyst Ido Wulkan, 25, that evidence is being made public linking what claims to be a specific Islamic State cell to Bitcoin fundraising in the dark web. This could be a one-off fundraising effort, admits Wulkan, or even — possibly although very unlikely, he says — a hoax or a joke. But it could also be pointing to a larger, more worrying trend. The information gathered has been passed on to various authorities tracking Islamic State activities.
“Due to the increasing efforts of social media websites to close ISIS-related accounts it was estimated that global jihad activists would seek refuge in the dark web,” says Wulkan, who is a senior web-intelligence analyst at S2T, a Singapore company that develops big data and cyber intelligence solutions for governments and big corporations.
Wulkan was scouring the deep web for a client — using S2T’s GoldenSpear data discovery system — as part of a project “having to do with international jihad,” he says, declining to give more details. The purported ISIS funding website was tracked down through a referral on a Turkish closed forum and is linked to other, known, jihadist sites,says Wulkan and others at S2T.
Once in the site, Wulkan found the following message from the group’s fundraiser, a man identified only as Abu-Mustafa: “Many of us live within the United States, and some are prominent with the community on both coasts,” writes Abu–Mustafa. “We are currently working with recent reverts to Islam and generally training brothers to struggle to establish a new Islamic front both in the U.S. and around the world.”
Abu-Mustafa goes on to talk about the scarcity of resources, such as money and facilities, which are available to young Muslims in the United States and South America who want to struggle against “their enemies.”
“Donations may be made through various means both monetary and physical,” explains Abu-Mustafa, “...though anything besides economic support through Bitcoin must be approved by the board and taken with much caution due to the security apparatus’ recent crackdown on any and all Islamic change fronts here in the United States.”
The revelation of this deep web site comes after the publication last July of a pro-ISIS blog titled “Bitcoin and the Charity of Violent Physical Struggle.” In it, a man identified as Taqi’ul-Deen al-Munthir argued that in order for Islamic State to fund its terror operations it needed to go outside the Western financial system.
“One cannot send a bank transfer to a mujahid [jihad fighter] or suspected mujahid without the kafir [infidel] governments ruling today immediately being aware,” he wrote on the blog, which received much media attention.
Al-Munthir called on ISIS supporters to encrypt their financial transactions by means of the so-called "Dark Wallet" — making it harder for state agencies fighting terrorism to track the transactions.
“This allows our brothers stuck outside of the ardh Dawlatul-Islam [Islamic State] to avoid government taxes along with secretly fund [sic] the Mujahideen with no legal danger upon them,” reads the post.
Al-Munthir also extolled the ‘Silk Road” — an online market place running mostly on Bitcoin and accessible, as are all sites on the dark web, only through a Tor network (a software protocol that reroutes traffic through hundreds of servers and computers to conceal identities). Both Silk Road and Silk Road 2.0 were eventually shut down by the FBI.
Despite this red flag indicating ISIS’s interest in Bitcoin, says Wulkan, there was no information made public as to whether ISIS cells had actually set up accounts into which Bitcoin could be transferred — until now.
“There was smoke, and now we have found the fire,” says Wulkan.
According to the London-based Quilliam Foundation, the world’s first counter extremist think tank, finding such evidence of Bitcoin fundraising on the dark web should not surprise anyone. “Attempts to block extremist material online will always fail….” they wrote in a recent position paper about the British government’s attempts to shutter extremist activity on the web. “The terrorist material reappears on the Internet as quickly as it is banished and the policy risks driving fanatics on to the “dark web” where they are even harder to track.”
According to Wulkan and others at S2T, Abu-Mustafa’s group left a Bitcoin account number showing that it managed to raise five Bitcoin, worth approximately, at the time, $1,000 dollars. The account, says Wulkan, has since been seized and shut down by the FBI.
But even if Islamic State fundraising for Bitcoins on the dark web is a phenomenon one might expect to see more of, observers note that, at present, it still represents only the tiniest drop in the bucket for the terror group. Available intelligence suggests Islamic State is managing to raise hundreds of millions of dollars — mainly through illicit activities such as kidnapping, extortion and straight out theft. This summer, Islamic State reportedly stole over $425 million dollars worth of Iraqi dinars from Mosul’s central bank, making it one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, terror groups in the world.
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