US investigators claim to have uncovered a global financial network stretching from the UK to Bangladesh that used fraudulent transactions to fund Islamic State schemes.
Siful Sujan, a Bangladeshi-born senior IS figure, ran the suspected network and funnelled money to an alleged IS operative in the US potentially to fund terrorist attacks, The Wall Street Journal
reports citing a recently unsealed FBI affidavit.
Ever since 9/11, the US and other countries have focused on the international banking systems that terror networks might use but the latest case suggests that the IS is trying to exploit holes in the online financial world to fund terror abroad.
A lengthy FBI surveillance operation first found clues to the suspected network. It emerged that fake eBay transactions were used to send money to an alleged IS operative in the US. The FBI arrested American citizen Mohamed Elshinawy, the alleged recipient of the money, more than a year ago in Maryland.
The FBI affidavit was filed under seal in January in support of search warrants requested by federal prosecutors for information from US technology firms on social media and email accounts established by Elshinawy and other suspects, WSJ reported.
A researcher with George Washington University’s programme on extremism on Thursday brought public attention to the unsealing of the affidavit. The affidavit has been filed in federal court in Baltimore.
The arrest of several alleged operatives of the network in Britain and Bangladesh has made it one of the most significant suspected financial networks of the terrorist group yet uncovered, the affidavit indicates.
According to the affidavit, the network operated through an IT firm Sujan founded in the UK. The company had offices in Bangladesh and he was also trying to set up a branch in Syria before he was killed. The BBC reported that Sujan left the UK in July 2014 and travelled to Syria.
In December 2015, police in Dhaka seized about Tk3.9 million destined for a close associate of New JMB leader Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, who is said to have masterminded last year's Gulshan cafe attack.
A senior police officer, who declined to be named, told Reuters
that the money, sent via the informal hawala cash transfer network, came from Sujan's company.
A Daily Mail report
said Bangladesh police suspected that Sujan and his family had funnelled hundreds of thousands of pounds from the UK to IS leaders in Dhaka so it could be sent to Syria.
Bangladesh has been denying the presence of IS in the country.
A person familiar with the US investigation said the operation involved investigators from various US intelligence agencies, and coordination with several other countries.
In December 2015, several key figures of the alleged network were arrested or killed in a coordinated global sweep, the FBI affidavit said. Sujan was IS' director of computer operations when he was killed in a drone strike on December 10 that year.
Sujan’s company spent $18,000 to buy military-grade surveillance equipment from a Canadian company and ordered electronic bug-sweeping equipment from a US company to be sent to Turkey, the affidavit said.
Elshinawy received a total of $8,700 from individuals associated with IS, including five payments through PayPal from Sujan’s company, according to the affidavit. He told the FBI that he knew the money was meant to conduct a terrorist attack in the US.