The United States has seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org,” two websites, which were unlawfully utilized by Kata’ib Hizballah, a Specially Designated National and a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
“Once again we see designated foreign terrorist organizations turning to the internet to push their message and recruit followers for their violent causes,” said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “We will continue to fight terror recruitment and propaganda efforts in the digital world, as we do elsewhere.”
“Our system of commerce and our infrastructure, whether physical or electronic, is to be used by lawfully,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak for the Northern District of Georgia. “We will not allow groups that have been rightfully prohibited from obtaining goods and services in the United States to use our internet services – especially to further their terrorist agenda. This seizure underscores national collaboration and a commitment to protecting our commerce and infrastructure.”
“The District of Arizona is home to many successful technology companies whose goods and services are capable of being used by individuals across the world,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Bailey for the District of Arizona. “We will not allow members of terrorist organizations to illegally use those goods and services to further their propaganda and agenda.”
“The National Security of the United States is, and will always be, the top priority for the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Office of Export Enforcement. Attempts to surreptitiously utilize U.S. based online networks and services to promote Iran backed terrorist propaganda will immediately be disrupted, disabled, and seized,” said P. Lee Smith, Performing the Non-exclusive Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce. “The Bureau of Industry and Security is committed to ensuring the stability of the Iraqi government and protecting our troops and Allied Forces against terrorist acts of violence”
On July 2, 2009, the U.S. Secretary of Treasury designated Kata’ib Hizballah, an Iran-backed terrorist group active in Iraq, as a Specially Designated National for committing, directing, supporting, and posing a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. On the same day, the U.S. Department of State designated Kata’ib Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for committing or posing a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism.
“Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org,” acted as Kata’ib Hizballah’s media arm and published internet communications such as videos, articles, and photographs. These communications included numerous articles designed to further Kata’ib Hizballah’s agenda, particularly destabilizing Iraq and recruiting others to join their cause. They also functioned as a live online television broadcast channel, “Al-etejah TV.” Portions of the communications expressly noted that they were published by Kata’ib Hizballah.
Federal law prohibits designated entities like Kata’ib Hizballah from obtaining or utilizing goods or services, including website and domain services, in the United States without a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org” are domain names that are owned and operated by a United States company based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Kata’ib Hizballah did not obtain a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control prior to utilizing the domain names.
On August 31, 2020, pursuant to a seizure warrant, the United States seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org.”
Visitors to the site received the following message:
This seizure was investigated by the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Northern District of Georgia, Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the District of Arizona, and trial lawyers from the Department of Justice National Security Division prosecuted the seizure.
Largest Ever Seizure of Terrorist Organizations’ Cryptocurrency Accounts
The Justice Department on Thursday announced the dismantling of three terrorist financing cyber-enabled campaigns, involving the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
This coordinated operation is detailed in three forfeiture complaints and a criminal complaint unsealed today in the District of Columbia. These actions represent the government’s largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency in the terrorism context.
These three terror finance campaigns all relied on sophisticated cyber-tools, including the solicitation of cryptocurrency donations from around the world. The action demonstrates how different terrorist groups have similarly adapted their terror finance activities to the cyber age.
Each group used cryptocurrency and social media to garner attention and raise funds for their terror campaigns. Pursuant to judicially-authorized warrants, U.S. authorities seized millions of dollars, over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages all related to the criminal enterprise.
Funds successfully forfeited with a connection to a state sponsor of terrorism may in whole or in part be directed to the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (http://www.usvsst.com/) after the conclusion of the case.
“It should not surprise anyone that our enemies use modern technology, social media platforms and cryptocurrency to facilitate their evil and violent agendas,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “The Department of Justice will employ all available resources to protect the lives and safety of the American public from terrorist groups. We will prosecute their money laundering, terrorist financing and violent illegal activities wherever we find them. And, as announced today, we will seize the funds and the instrumentalities that provide a lifeline for their operations whenever possible. I want to thank the investigators from the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the prosecutors from the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office and National Security Division for their hard and innovative work in attacking the networks that allow these terrorists to recruit for and fund their dangerous actions.”
“Terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies. IRS-CI special agents in the DC cybercrimes unit work diligently to unravel these financial networks,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin. “Today’s actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to holding malign actors accountable for their crimes.”
“The Department of Homeland Security was born after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and, nearly 20 years later, we remain steadfast in executing our critical mission to safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf. “Today’s announcement detailing these enforcement actions targeting foreign terrorist organizations is yet another example of the Department’s commitment to our mission. After launching investigations that identified suspected online payments being funneled to and in support of terrorist networks, Homeland Security Investigations skillfully leveraged their cyber, financial, and trade investigative expertise to disrupt and dismantle cyber-criminal networks that sought to fund acts of terrorism against the United States and our allies. Together with our federal law enforcement partners, the Department will utilize every resource available to ensure that our Homeland is and remains secure.”
“These important cases reflect the resolve of the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office to target and dismantle these sophisticated cyber-terrorism and money laundering actors across the globe,” stated Acting United States Attorney Michael R. Sherwin. “While these individuals believe they operate anonymously in the digital space, we have the skill and resolve to find, fix and prosecute these actors under the full extent of the law.”
“IRS-CI’s ability to trace funds used by terrorist groups to their source and dismantle these radical group’s communication and financial networks directly prevents them from wreaking havoc throughout the world,” said Don Fort, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation. “Today the world is a safer place.”
“As the primary law enforcement agency charged with defeating terrorism, the FBI will continue to combat illicit terrorist financing regardless of platform or method employed by our adversaries,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “As demonstrated by this recent operation, the FBI remains committed to cutting off the financial lifeblood of these organizations that seek to harm Americans at home and abroad.”
“Homeland Security Investigations continues to demonstrate their investigative expertise with these enforcement actions,” said ICE Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Matthew T. Albence. “Together with law enforcement partners, HSI has utilized their unique authorities to bring to justice those cyber-criminal networks who would do us harm.”
Al-Qassam Brigades Campaign
The first action involves the al-Qassam Brigades and its online cryptocurrency fundraising efforts. In the beginning of 2019, the al-Qassam Brigades posted a call on its social media page for bitcoin donations to fund its campaign of terror. The al-Qassam Brigades then moved this request to its official websites, alqassam.net, alqassam.ps, and qassam.ps.
The al-Qassam Brigades boasted that bitcoin donations were untraceable and would be used for violent causes. Their websites offered video instruction on how to anonymously make donations, in part by using unique bitcoin addresses generated for each individual donor.
However, such donations were not anonymous. Working together, IRS, HSI, and FBI agents tracked and seized all 150 cryptocurrency accounts that laundered funds to and from the al-Qassam Brigades’ accounts. Simultaneously, law enforcement executed criminal search warrants relating to United States-based subjects who donated to the terrorist campaign.
With judicial authorization, law enforcement seized the infrastructure of the al-Qassam Brigades websites and subsequently covertly operated alqassam.net. During that covert operation, the website received funds from persons seeking to provide material support to the terrorist organization, however, they instead donated the funds bitcoin wallets controlled by the United States.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia also unsealed criminal charges for two Turkish individuals, Mehmet Akti and Hüsamettin Karataş, who acted as related money launderers while operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
The second cyber-enabled terror finance campaign involves a scheme by al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups, largely based out of Syria. As the forfeiture complaint details, these terrorist organizations operated a bitcoin money laundering network using Telegram channels and other social media platforms to solicit cryptocurrency donations to further their terrorist goals. In some instances, they purported to act as charities when, in fact, they were openly and explicitly soliciting funds for violent terrorist attacks. For example, one post from a charity sought donations to equip terrorists in Syria with weapons:
Undercover HSI agents communicated with the administrator of Reminder for Syria, a related charity that was seeking to finance terrorism via bitcoin donations. The administrator stated that he hoped for the destruction of the United States, discussed the price for funding surface-to air missles, and warned about possible criminal consequences from carrying out a jihad in the United States.
Posts from another Syrian charity similarly explicitly referenced weapons and extremist activities:
Al-Qaeda and the affiliated terrorist groups together created these posts and used complicated obfuscation techniques, uncovered by law enforcement, to layer their transactions so to conceal their actions. Today’s complaint seeks forfeiture of the 155 virtual currency assets tied to this terrorist campaign.
The final complaint combines the Department’s initiatives of combatting COVID-19 related fraud with combatting terrorism financing. The complaint highlights a scheme by Murat Cakar, an ISIS facilitator who is responsible for managing select ISIS hacking operations, to sell fake personal protective equipment via FaceMaskCenter.com (displayed below)
The website claimed to sell FDA approved N95 respirator masks, when in fact the items were not FDA approved. Site administrators claimed to have near unlimited supplies of the masks, in spite of such items being officially-designated as scarce. The site administrators offered to sell these items to customers across the globe, including a customer in the United States who sought to purchase N95 masks and other protective equipment for hospitals, nursing homes, and fire departments.
The unsealed forfeiture complaint seized Cakar’s website as well as four related Facebook pages used to facilitate the scheme. With this third action, the United States has averted the further victimization of those seeking COVID-19 protective gear, and disrupted the continued funding of ISIS.
The claims made in these three complaints are only allegations and do not constitute a determination of liability. The burden to prove forfeitability in a civil forfeiture proceeding is upon the government. Further, charges contained in criminal complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
IRS-CI Cyber Crimes Unit (Washington, D.C.), HSI’s Philadelphia Office, and FBI’s Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles field offices are investigating the case. Assistant U.S Attorneys Jessi Camille Brooks and Zia M. Faruqui, and National Security Division Trial Attorneys Danielle Rosborough and Alexandra Hughes are litigating the case, with assistance from Paralegal Specialists Brian Rickers and Bria Cunningham, and Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick. Additional assistance has been provided by Chainalysis and Excygent.
On August 2, 2020, the IDF thwarted an attempt by four terrorists to place an improvised explosive device (IED) by the Israeli security fence. The terrorists crossed the buffer zone between Israel and Syria near the Alpha Line before they were stopped by IDF troops.
This attack from Syria follows an attempted infiltration into Israel from Lebanon by a Hezbollah terror squad on July 27, 2020, which you can read about here.
Following the security incident in northern Israel on July 27, 2020, the IDF gave instructions to Israeli civilians living in northern Israel in close proximity to the Blue Line. Civilians were asked to temporarily stay in their homes and avoid any activity in open areas. In addition, the IDF closed roads in the area to minimize movement.
Iran and Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, are using Syria as a launchpad for terror against Israeli civilians. Since the outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011, Iran has provided significant military and financial support to the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad. Iran has long-sought influence over Syria as control over Syria increases Iran’s ability to threaten Israel with attacks and its overall control in the region.
The Quds Force of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian proxy groups—like Hezbollah—took advantage of the instability in Syria in the aftermath of conflict, and have used this opportunity to entrench themselves in Syria, to establish a permanent base for Iranian operations. In total, since the beginning of 2018, Iran and Hezbollah have launched eight separate attacks on Israel from Syria.
After the attempted terror attack of August 2nd, the IDF conducted a patrol of the area and discovered weapons and a bag with explosives—ready to be used—left by the terror squad just 25 meters from the Israeli security fence.
In response to the attempted terror attack on August 2, 2020, IDF aircraft and fighter jets struck Syrian Armed Forces military sites in southern Syria on August 3, 2020. Among the targets included: observation posts, intelligence collection systems, anti-aircraft artillery, and command and control systems.
The IDF holds the Syrian government responsible for all activities on Syrian soil, and will continue operating with determination against any violation of Israeli sovereignty.
The police, airports, embassies, Shia-Ahmadiyya shrines, mosques, churches, pagodas and temples could be the targets
The police have received intelligence the members of Neo-JMB, who follow the Islamic State (IS) ideology, could try to carry out attacks in Bangladesh ahead of Eid-ul-Azha, Dhaka Tribune has reported.
The police headquarters (PHQ) has warned all police units to take strict security measures across the country.
A letter was sent recently from the police headquarters with such warnings and other instructions.
The PHQ sources said a review on the national-global context and intelligence has revealed that the so-called IS took an initiative to declare a new wing “Bengal Ulayat” ahead of the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha.
Analyzing the trend of International and regional events, it seems like “Bengal Ulayat” will be declared through a major terrorist attack.
In this situation, Neo-JMB, an ultra-radical offshoot of the banned militant outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and the indigenous followers of IS, can carry out subversive activities, including assassinations, bombing and other form of attacks.
Therefore, all police units must take appropriate precautions and take appropriate security measures, the PHQ instructed.
Militant outfits active in August
The PHQ Additional Deputy Inspector General (intelligence and special affairs) Haider Ali Khan told Dhaka Tribune that in the past, militant outfits were active in the month of August.
“Therefore, we have stepped up security measures,” he added.
The police sources said the police (any police team, installation or vehicle), airports, embassies, Shia-Ahmadiyya shrines, mosques, churches, pagodas and temples could be the targets.
The PHQ instructed all units to increase surveillance of extremists and their organizations, maintain personal security for all police, not leave police vehicles empty or abandoned, ensure security and identity while entering police buildings, increase surveillance of school-college-university students.
It has instructed the units concerned to increase searches at the check posts, search bags and bodies in case of suspicion and conduct block raids in suspicious areas.
The PHQ specifically asked the militancy units, including the police counter-terrorism unit, to take maximum preparation.
Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU) Chief Additional Inspector General of Police Md Kamrul Ahsan told Dhaka tribune that during special day and occasion, they always beef up the security and always remain alert.
Previously on Saturday, a traffic police left behind his personal motorcycle in Gulistan area around 9:30pm. He came back after a while to find a bag hanging on his motorcycle. A bomb-like object was found inside the bag.
Later, the bomb disposal unit rushed there and later tests revealed that it was nothing dangerous, but a fake grenade.
In 2019 during this period, police recovered explosive materials and on April 30, a hand grenade was hurled at a traffic police in Gulistan. On May 26, 2019, a police pickup was bombed in front of the Special Branch office in Malibagh.
A suburban Pittsburgh man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on charges of violating federal firearms and explosives laws, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady has announced.
The five-count Indictment, returned on July 14, named Kurt Cofano, 32, of Whitehall, Pennsylvania, as the sole defendant.
According to the Indictment, on July 9 and July 10, 2020, Cofano was found to be in possession of unregistered destructive devices. Also, the Indictment alleges that on those same dates, Cofano, an unlawful user of a controlled substance, was in possession of a firearm. Federal law prohibits the possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance. The Indictment further alleges that from May 2020 through July 2020, Cofano knowingly and unlawfully and without registering and obtaining approval made destructive devices.
“Kurt Cofano stands accused of illegally possessing multiple completed destructive devices, the components for making additional destructive devices, and a dozen firearms all in violation of federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Brady. “I commend the excellent work of the investigators and the prowess of our prosecutors to take this case from incident to indictment in just five days. In serious cases like this, justice will be certain and swift.”
“We are committed to keeping our communities safe,” said acting Special Agent in Charge John Schmidt, ATF Philadelphia Field Division. “This investigation is a perfect demonstration of how ATF combats violent crime by partnering with our local, state and federal counterparts in this case the Whitehall and Mt. Lebanon Police Departments, the Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Police Bomb Squads and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
“This investigation successfully disrupted a very real threat,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Christman. “A mix of unstable, homemade manufactured explosives, large amounts of ammo and a person who has already made threats to inflict harm is an extremely dangerous combination. The FBI will always rally together with the ATF and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to take anyone who presents a threat to our community off our streets.”
The law provides for a maximum total sentence of not more than 50 years in prison, a fine of not more than $750,000, a term of supervised release of not more than three years, or a combination thereof. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant United States Attorneys Cindy K. Chung and Jonathan D. Lusty are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives conducted the investigation leading to the Indictment in this case. The Mt. Lebanon Police Department, the Whitehall Police Department, the Allegheny County Police Department and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police provided substantial assistance with the investigation.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
An indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.