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NIA charge sheet alleges Bitcoins used by IS operatives to fund terror activity

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has claimed in a charge sheet filed last month that Islamic State operative Jahanzaib Sami had arranged a Bitcoin wallet address, through a British contact, on which he asked associates to deposit funds — the first documented allegation of the use of cryptocurrency in terror activity in India.

Sami, 36, and his wife Hina Bashir were arrested in Delhi on March 8 for allegedly planning to carry out attacks in India. According to the charge sheet, they received the Bitcoin address on Threema, an instant messaging app, from an account called Caged Pearls, which belongs to a British woman based in Syria.

“She had given her Bitcoin wallet address to Sami and requested him to deposit money in that account. He had asked his associates to deposit funds in this wallet address,” reads the NIA charge sheet, which HT has reviewed.

He also got in touch with a Libya-based IS operative who possessed an ID ‘Sech Tech’, to discuss arranging funds through “blockchain technology”. Cryptocurencies such as Bitcoins leverage a technology known as blockchain, a decentralised, distributed ledger that tracks transactions. These are anonymous and nearly impossible to track, and are commonly used in dark web transactions. The charge sheet said Sami discussed the possibility of using this to source weapons and explosives raw material.

According to the charge sheet, Sami planned to carry out 100 bombing in a single day.

Sech Tech, a member of IS’s intelligence and media unit, told Sami that he works in dark web and provides Bitcoins for funding of the outfit, the NIA said.

“They also discussed arranging funds through stolen credit cards for procuring weapons,” the charge sheet said.

The increasing use of cryptocurrency by terror organisations like IS and Al-Qaeda to fund their activities has worried security and intelligence communities across the world. The US Department of Justice, on August 13 said it seized millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency this year, and 300 of the accounts belonged to IS, Al-Qaeda, and the military wing of Hamas.

People familiar with the NIA probe said this may be the first time any terror activity in India has been linked to Bitcoins.

“We are trying to unearth more details,” said an officer who asked not to be named.

The NIA charge sheet also alleges that Abdullah Basith, a key IS member lodged in Tihar jail since August 2018, was using smartphones inside the prison for almost 10 months between June 2019 and February this year to interact with Sami and several ISIS commanders abroad – including Maulvi Abdullah, head of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), handler Huzaifa-al-Bakistani, Abu Usman-Al-Kashmiri (Head of Indian affairs of ISKP), Abu Umar, Munasib Bhai and Abu Algama from inside Tihar jail.

Huzaifa and Umar were killed in Afghanistan while Kashmiri was arrested by Afghan security forces earlier this year after an attack on a gurdwara in Kabul in March. NIA is investigating the Kabul attack as well and is likely to visit Afghanistan soon.

The charge sheet states that Basith, from Hyderabad, had strong connections in IS since 2016, and first procured a phone with a SIM belonging to an Indian service provider in June 2019. He used it to contact Abu Umar, the in-charge of Nida-e-Haq (the official Urdu media of IS) on Telegram app. This phone was detected by jail authorities in September and seized. Then, in November 2019, he was transferred from Jail number 8 to 3 where he obtained another phone with a SIM card. This phone was traced in February this year by jail authorities, according to charge sheet.

From jail, he radicalised some young Muslims selected by Sami, and motivated them to make graffiti at public places against CAA/NRC (Citizenship Amendment Act/National Register of Citizens), according to the charge sheet.

“Investigation also revealed that Basith’s wife received funds sent by Huzaifa Al Bakistani while he was in jail,” chargesheet said. While in jail, Basith had also told Sami that he had plans to radicalise Muslim persons in prison to join the ISIS, it added.

Read More: NIA charge sheet alleges Bitcoins used by IS operatives to fund terror activity

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