News & Politics

Long Island Woman Used $85k in Bitcoin to Help Fund ISIS, DOJ Says

A Long Island woman was charged with laundering in excess of $85,000 using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to help finance ISIS.

According to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office: Eastern District of New York: “A five-count indictment was unsealed earlier today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, charging Zoobia Shahnaz with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and three substantive counts of money laundering.  As alleged in the indictment and court filings, the defendant defrauded numerous financial institutions and obtained over $85,000 in illicit proceeds, which she converted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.”

“She then laundered and transferred the funds out of the country to support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (‘ISIS’), which has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization,” the release went on to say. “After consummating the scheme, the defendant attempted to leave the United States and travel to Syria.  Shahnaz, a U.S citizen, was arrested yesterday, and her initial arraignment is scheduled for this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson.”

While Shahnaz is a U.S. citizen, she was born in Pakistan. She has also traveled to Syria. According to her lawyer, who spoke to NPR, “As a healthcare professional, in 2016, Ms. Shahnaz was a volunteer with the Syrian American Medical Society assisting other healthcare providers in delivering life-saving medical care to Syrian refugees. She witnessed the suffering of the refugees first hand. Her humanitarian efforts then and since were motivated by her commitment to helping alleviate the plight of the people in the Middle East.”

Considering that much of the suffering being inflicted on the people in the Middle East is at the hands of ISIS, funding the terrorist organization seems like an odd way to help “alleviate [their] plight.” It’s safe to say that her motivation, as expressed by her lawyer, should be called into question. Especially since the press release details some of Ms. Shahnaz’s activities this past year. The defendant “engaged in a scheme to defraud numerous financial institutions.  Specifically, Shahnaz obtained a loan for approximately $22,500 by way of materially false representations.  She also fraudulently applied for over a dozen credit cards, which she used to purchase approximately $62,000 in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies online.  She then engaged in a pattern of financial activity, culminating in several wire transactions, totaling over $150,000, to individuals and apparent shell entities in Pakistan, China and Turkey.  These transactions were designed to avoid transaction reporting requirements, conceal the identity, source and destination of the illicitly obtained monies, and, ultimately, benefit ISIS.”

After conducting these transactions, Shahnaz tried to travel to Syria herself. “She was questioned by law enforcement at John F. Kennedy International Airport when she attempted to board a flight to Islamabad, Pakistan.  Her itinerary included a multi-day layover in Istanbul, Turkey – a common point of entry for individuals travelling from Western countries to join ISIS in Syria.”

It appears that beyond just providing “medical aid,” Zoobia Shahnaz also spent some time being radicalized while in Syria. Assuming that she wasn’t already radicalized before she traveled to the Middle East, that is. Regardless, we can be thankful that the federal government has arrested this terrorist living in Long Island.