In brief

  • Zoobia Shahnaz was sentenced to 13 years in prison for funding ISIS.
  • She used cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, to pay the terrorists.
  • Shahnaz had also planned to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

A US woman was on Friday sentenced to 13 years in prison for sending over $150,000 to terrorist organization ISIS—much of it in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. 

Zoobia Shahnaz, of Long Island, New York, pleaded guilty in November 2018 for providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The Department of Justice announced yesterday that Shahnaz sent over $150,000 to people and groups in Pakistan, China, and Turkey that were affiliated with ISIS. The money had been raised fraudulently—as part of her heist, Shahnaz used stolen credit cards to buy around $62,000 in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Shahnaz also planned to move to Syria to join ISIS and had researched the group online. Jihad-related propaganda—including a photo of a suicide belt and a night vision scope—was found at her home in Long Island, the Department of Justice said. 

Shahnaz, who had previously worked as a lab technician in a Manhattan hospital, was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 31, 2017 while attempting to board a flight to Turkey—a common entry point to Syria, according to the Department of Justice.

Terrorism's crypto habit

That cryptocurrency is used to fund terrorism is nothing new. As reported by Decrypt, a report released last year by the Washington, DC-based Middle Eastern Media Research Institute revealed that a number of terrorist groups—among them ISIS, Al-Qaida, Hamas, and Muslim Brotherhood—use messenger app Telegram to raise cryptocurrency and coordinate attacks. 

In response to the growing threat, financial regulators worldwide have ramped countermeasures that prevent terrorists from using crypto to fundraise for campaigns.

The Financial Action Taskforce, the global standard-setter for measures against money laundering and terrorist financing, recommended that governments implement policies that require crypto companies to share information about customers between each other when processing transactions.

Perhaps ahead of the curve, terrorists aren't putting all their faith in crypto. For terrorists, cash is still king, according to a report released last year, since it’s easier to manage than crypto.