United States woman used bitcoin to move cash to ISIS

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NY woman Zoobia Shahnaz allegedly laundered 85,000 dollars through cryptocurrencies to fund the Islamic State before attempting to travel to Syria in July, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Zoobia Shanaz, 27, of Brentwood, is charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering. The woman also "accessed ISIS propaganda, violent jihad-related websites and message boards, and social media and messaging pages of known ISIS recruiters, facilitators and financiers", according to the DOJ statement.

She is then said to have used the cards to purchase approximately £50,000 in crypto-currencies online, according to the district attorney's office.

It is claimed that Shahnaz, using loans and credit cards obtained with fake information, defrauded a number of financial institutions - including American Express Bank, Chase Bank, Discover Bank and TD Bank.

Shahnaz took out more than a dozen credit cards earlier this year and used the money she borrowed to by cryptocurrency and send it overseas, according to an indictment filed by United States attorneys in federal court.

After she laundered the money to people in Pakistan, China and Turkey, federal officials say, she "planned to travel to Syria and join ISIS".

A life-size nativity scene glows in a yard in Pasadena California.
David McNew  Getty Images
A life-size nativity scene glows in a yard in Pasadena California. David McNew Getty Images

Shahnaz's attorney, Steve Zissou, said she never attempted to help ISIS and only wanted to help the Syrian refugees she had come across while volunteering.

The Justice Department says Shahnaz then began transferring money overseas to support ISIS, while taking measures to disguise the nature and objective of the funds and avoid transaction reporting requirements.

She then allegedly tried to leave the USA for Syria via Pakistan and Turkey, but was stopped before she left the country. She was stopped by law enforcement investigators at John F. Kennedy airport and questioned about her trip and the financial transactions, prosecutors said.

The digital currency has been used by criminals to launder money.

"Her itinerary included a multiday layover in Istanbul, Turkey - a common point of entry for individuals traveling from Western countries to join ISIS in Syria", prosecutors said. Authorities arrested her in her home on Long Island Wednesday evening, and she was then remanded into custody the following day in order to stand trial in January. Her return flight was booked for September 4 from Istanbul, Turkey back to JFK.

Court filings suggest that part of the government's case will focus on the defendant's Internet search history.

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