Jihadists in Syria turn to bitcoin to raise much-needed funds

Militant groups are increasingly turning to cryptocurrency

Richard Hall
Middle East Correspondent
Wednesday 17 April 2019 15:51
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What is cryptocurrency and the technology behind bitcoin and its rivals?

A powerful jihadi group in Syria is promoting the use of bitcoin to its followers, calling it one of the most important inventions of the last decade.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a coalition of rebel groups that includes a former affiliate of al-Qaeda, extolled the virtues of the cryptocurrency in its weekly magazine released over the weekend.

The article lists a number of advantages of using bitcoin, arguing that it is “safe” because of the anonymity it provides and that there are no restrictions on its use.

HTS currently controls most of Idlib province in northern Syria, and is the most powerful remaining opposition force still committed to ousting the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The group receives most of its funding through taxes and tariffs on residents in areas under its control. But is also relies on a steady stream of funding from private Gulf donors, according to the Counter Extremism Project.

The group has come under increased pressure over the past year from the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, which has long threatened to launch an offensive to recapture the territory.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is by no means the only militant group to see the benefits in cryptocurrency. Over the past few years, many have called for donations through virtual currencies.

As early as 2014, Isis supporters had posted tutorials online about how to make bitcoin donations to the group. In November 2018, a Pakistani-American woman was jailed for using bitcoin to launder money for Isis. And last month, the Palestinian group Hamas released a video which urged supporters to support it by sending bitcoins, as part of a crowdfunding campaign that began back in January.

In response to the growing threat, the US Treasury enforced sanctions against cryptocurrency wallet addresses for the first time last year.

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