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US woman charged with attempting to use bitcoin to finance terrorists in Syria

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This photo, taken on November 20, 2017, shows gold plated souvenir bitcoin coins arranged for a photograph in London. (By AFP)

A New York woman has been charged with attempting to use bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to send tens of thousands of dollars to the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group previously operating but now defeated in Syria.

US Federal prosecutors indicted Zoobiah Shahnaz on three counts of money laundering, one of conspiracy to launder money, and one of bank fraud between May and August this year, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.

Court documents claimed that the 27-year-old had fraudulently obtained more than 85,000 dollars through a bank loan and credit cards to buy bitcoin and similar currencies online to fund Daesh.

“As alleged, the defendant Zoobia Shahnaz engaged in a bank fraud scheme, purchased bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and laundered money overseas, intending to put thousands of dollars into the coffers of terrorists,” said Bridget M. Rohde, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

“She allegedly tried to launder virtual currency to bolster terrorists’ dwindling financial support.  The FBI New York Joint Terrorism Task Force kept this woman from her dangerous and potentially deadly goal,” Rohde added.

The Pakistani-born supporter of Daesh quit her job as a lab technician at a Manhattan hospital in June and had no known criminal history, according to prosecutors.

She “ultimately sought to join” the terrorists in Syria, court documents showed.

This file photo shows members of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group during a parade in an undisclosed location in Syria.

Shahnaz was arrested at the John F. Kennedy Airport while carrying 9,500 dollars in cash as she attempted to board a flight to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Searches of her electronic devices showed numerous internet searches for Daesh-related material and message boards administered by the terrorist outfit, according to US federal prosecutors.

Rejecting the accusations of funding the Takfiri terrorists in Syria, Steve Zissou, the defendant’s lawyer, claimed Shahnaz was sending money overseas and using bitcoin to help Syrian refugees.

Shahnaz is currently being held without bail following her arraignment last week and will be facing 90 years in prison, if convicted.

Created in 2009, bitcoin uses encryption and a blockchain database that enables the fast and anonymous transfer of funds outside of a traditional centralized payment system.

Terrorist groups have shown an increasing interest in the potentials of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which exist outside of formal banking structures and can help users make transactions with more anonymity.

Daesh allegedly posted its bitcoin address on the web in 2015 so its supporters could finance it.


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