Zoobia Shahnaz Crypto Scheme
The use of cryptocurrencies to fuel terrorism activities is not something new. However, it is only now that the magnitude of the issue is becoming clear. Recently, a woman in New York has plead guilty to leveraging cryptocurrencies all in the effort financing terrorist group ISIS. Zoobia Shahnaz is staring at a long sentence for allegedly wiring more than $150,000 with the intention of financing terrorism. A resident of Brentwood, Long Island, Shahnaz allegedly wired the money to entities with links to ISIS in Pakistan, China, and Turkey.
Shahnaz faces up to 20 years in Prison for providing material support to a foreign terrorist group. Authorities intercepted the suspect last year as she tried to leave the U.S for Syria, a hotbed of terrorist activities. Prior to her arrest, Shahnaz worked as a lab technician in Manhattan and earned as much as $71,000 a year. Court filings indicate she travelled to Jordan in 2016 where she volunteered with the Syrian American Medical Society. However, she conducted internet research on traveling to Syria and joining ISIS, which appears to have caught the attention of authorities.
Authorities allege that early last year the suspect engaged in a scheme whereby she duped a number of banks. She conned Chase Bank, TD Bank, and American Express into issuing her six credit cards. Further, she used the cards, with at least 10 other people, to buy Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, worth $62,703.
Cryptocurrencies For Terrorism
Shahnaz went on to convert the cryptocurrencies to dollars and then transferred the funds into a checking account. Prosecutors allege the culprit went on and fraudulently acquired another loan of about $22,500. Once she had all the money in place, she made wire transfers overseas as she sought to avoid financial reporting. Court filings indicate that Shahnaz conducted internet research on ISIS. Her online searches focused on ISIS recruiters as well as financiers and fighters with ties to the terrorist group. She similarly accessed maps to gain insight on the Turkey-Syria border and cities inside the terrorist group.
Her plan to travel to Syria, however, did not come to fruition. Authorities arrested her on July 31, 2017, at JFK Airport in New York as she prepared to board a flight to Pakistan. From Pakistan, she was to take a flight to Istanbul, which is a jumping off point for people headed into Syria. Upon her arrest at JFK, she lied to Law enforcement agents when they inquired about her wire transfers. She went on to claim that she planned to visit various mosques and tourist sites in Turkey. When asked about the wire transfers, she provided conflicting explanations that left authorities with no choice but to put her under custody.
The incident affirms authorities concerns that cryptocurrencies are used to fuel money laundering and terrorist activities in the underworld. The fact that cryptocurrencies enable anonymous transactions makes them ideal financial instruments where one wants to evade the prying eyes of authorities.