Politics

U.S. seizes $2 million from more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts used by terror groups

Key Points
  • The Justice Department said it seized $2 million from more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts in what it described as the largest-ever seizure of its kind.
  • The agency said three overseas terrorist groups used cryptocurrencies and social media to raise funds for their terror campaigns. 
U.S. Attorney General William Barr, December 10, 2019.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said it dismantled an elaborate cyber campaign used by overseas terror organizations to finance their operations and seized $2 million from more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts in what it described as the largest-ever seizure of its kind.

The Justice Department said three overseas terrorist groups — al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing; al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS — used cryptocurrencies and social media to raise funds for their terror campaigns. 

"It should not surprise anyone that our enemies use modern technology, social media platforms and cryptocurrency to facilitate their evil and violent agendas," Attorney General William Barr said in a release. "As announced today, we will seize the funds and the instrumentalities that provide a lifeline for their operations whenever possible," he added.

"Terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies. IRS-CI special agents in the DC cybercrimes unit work diligently to unravel these financial networks," Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in a release.

In one of the cases, the U.S. secretly took over websites that were operated by al-Qassam Brigades and monitored those who thought they had opened up their cyber wallets to the terror group but instead donated money to an account controlled by the U.S. government, according to court documents unsealed Thursday in the District of Columbia. 

A senior Justice Department official said that federal agents were investigating individuals who donated to those accounts.

Federal agents said that the al Qaeda campaign was based in Syria and solicited funds in order to buy weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, and the ISIS campaign sought to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic by selling fake personal protective equipment.