A Long Island woman has been charged with sending tens of thousands of dollars to ISIS fighters in Syria. As has been widely reported, the woman allegedly used bitcoin to transfer the funds overseas. Headlines have glossed over the way the money was obtained in the first place though: by good old-fashioned credit card fraud.
From the Eastside to the Middle East
The suspect at the center of the case, Zoobi Shahnaz, supposedly stole tens of thousands of dollars from American Express Bank, Chase Bank, Discover Bank and TD Bank before forwarding her ill-gotten gains to Syria using bitcoin. Her lawyer has insisted that the 27-year-old was only trying to aid Syrian refugees, but U.S. prosecutors aren’t buying it. Shahnaz supposedly gave fake information to a series of banks in order to obtain over $85,000. As evidence of the woman’s ideological leanings, it’s been reported that her internet searches included “top female jihadis” and “one-way tickets to Istanbul”. In the event, she went on to purchase a return flight – something ISIS recommends as it’s less suspicious.
The woman, who was born in Pakistan, worked in a Manhattan hospital as a lab technician until quitting in June in readiness to flee the country. The case has only come to light now after a grand jury indictment was unsealed, revealing charges of bank fraud, money laundering, and supporting a foreign terrorist organization. Her defence lawyer, Steve Zissou, has claimed that the money was for humanitarian purposes, citing a journey she took to Jordan in early 2016 to volunteer with the Syrian American Medical Society.
Follow the Money
The scam unfolded between March and July of this year, and culminated in Zissou purchasing over $62,000 of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, according to prosecutors. The Pakistani national successfully purchased bitcoin with the stolen credit cards but her plan came undone after she tried to fly from John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 31. Agents swooped, ensuring that the woman was unable to reach her final destination of Istanbul via Pakistan.
The case, if proven, demonstrates the difficulty of sending funds overseas by any means for illicit purposes. While there are ways of buying cryptocurrency anonymously without leaving a paper trail, it is very difficult to do so in large amounts. The bulk of the crimes Shahnaz stands accused of were conducted using fiat currency, before the 27-year-old switched to cryptocurrency for the final leg of the journey. Despite this, expect to see the mainstream media zeroing in on bitcoin as a conduit for terrorism. Shahnaz has been held without bail and the case will call again on January 5th.
What do you think deserves the brunt of the blame here: fiat currency, bitcoin, or the accused herself? Let us know in the comments section below.
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