US investigators have uncovered a global financial network run by an Islamic State leader from Britain to Bangladesh, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The network also funnelled money to an alleged ISIS operative in the US through fake eBay transactions, according to a recently unsealed FBI affidavit.
The alleged recipient of the funds was an American citizen in his early 30s who had been arrested more than a year ago in Maryland after a lengthy Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance operation that found the first clues to the suspected network.
The government had alleged in a 2016 indictment that the American suspect, Mohamed Elshinawy, pledged allegiance to Islamic State and had pretended to sell computer printers on eBay as a cover to receive payments through PayPal, potentially to fund terror attacks.
Elshinawy was part of a global network stretching from Britain to Bangladesh that used similar schemes to fund Islamic State and was directed by a now-dead senior ISIS figure in Syria, Siful Sujan, according to the FBI affidavit, filed in federal court in Baltimore.
The US has said Elshinawy told investigators he was instructed to use the money for “operational purposes” in the US, such as a possible terror attack.
The case suggests how Islamic State is trying to exploit holes in the vast online financial world to finance terror outside its borders.
The affidavit indicates that several other alleged operatives of the network had been arrested in Britain and Bangladesh, making it one of the most significant suspected Islamic State financial networks yet uncovered.
The operation pulled in investigators across the US intelligence empire and involved coordination with several other countries, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Some of the key players in the alleged network, also used to buy military supplies, were arrested or killed in a coordinated global sweep in December 2015, according to the FBI affidavit.
Sujan was killed in a drone strike on Dec 10, 2015, according to a person familiar with the matter. At the time, Sujan was Islamic State’s director of computer operations, according to the affidavit.
The financial network, according to the FBI affidavit, operated through a British technology company founded by Sujan. His company had offices in Bangladesh, and Sujan also was setting up a branch in Turkey, according to the affidavit.
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.
The unsealing of the affidavit was brought to public attention Thursday by a researcher with George Washington University’s programme on extremism.
Sujan’s company, which built websites and “obtained and configured printers,” spent $18,000 to buy, from a Canadian company, military-grade surveillance equipment that could be used for aerial targeting, according to the affidavit. It also 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 Islamic State, according to the affidavit, including five payments through PayPal from Sujan’s company.
He used the money for a laptop, a cellphone and a VPN communications network, all of which the FBI claims he used to communicate with the Islamic State network, according to the affidavit.
Elshinawy told the FBI he knew the money was meant to conduct a terrorist attack in the US, according the affidavit. But he said he never planned to carry out any attack. Instead, the affidavit indicated, he said he was taking the money from “thieves.”