FCA turns to Bitcoin experts as it steps up fight against terrorists funded by crypto

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He adds that the expansion of crypto assets and social media platforms as a model for terrorism-funding has resulted in several cases of states suffering from a concentrated wave of international terrorism.

In the US, there have been several convictions for terrorist financing involving crypto assets. In Virginia in 2015, Ali Shukri Amin was sentenced to 11 years in prison for using his Twitter account to advise IS on how to use Bitcoin, and in 2017 Zoobia Shahnaz from Long Island was arrested by the FBI after attempting to transfer $62,000 (£46,500) worth of Bitcoin to the jihadist group. 

Back across the pond, the FCA estimated in 2018 that between £3bn and £4bn is laundered annually via crypto assets within the UK and the EU. Yet this estimate is thought to only represent a small percentage of the money laundered within the bloc. 

Extremists use crypto assets to trade items such as weapons and drugs on the black market and even set up effective crowdfunding sites on the dark web where sympathisers can donate. 

For example, “Fund the Islamic struggle without leaving a race” is a dark webpage used to transfer bitcoins to jihadis. Some extremists have even published books that teach supporters how to transfer Bitcoin from Western countries to jihadists.

But as surveillance from regulators and crime agencies increases, so does the creativity of those they are trying to catch.

Ryder recalls an FBI agent working in financial crime who recently said to him that it’s a “good day” when law enforcement are only three steps behind the criminals. 

But extremists are also becoming increasingly security conscious and are moving away from popular crypto assets such as Bitcoin into more niche, less heavily regulated, coins. 

Jihadist groups have also started to trade crypto assets themselves in an attempt to cash in on the highly volatile markets, providing classes on technical analysis to young recruits. 

Officials hope that enhancing surveillance capabilities will allow them to track and identify those using cryptocurrencies for illicit purposes, leading to more convictions like the one handed to Chaudhary.

During his trial in Birmingham Crown Court earlier this year, Chaudhary tried to claim the funding he was transferring for IS was for “humanitarian purposes.” 

In response, the judge said: “You’re an intelligent man, but unfortunately your actions demonstrate you’re a committed extremist intent on furthering a terrorist agenda for Islamic State”. 

“There is no reason to believe you will surrender these views lightly, and I conclude that you are, and are likely to remain, a dangerous offender for the foreseeable future.”

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