A woman from New York City has been accused of stealing and laundering over $85,000 to send to Islamic State, using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, said the Department of Justice on Thursday.
The DOJ identified the woman as 27-year-old Zoobia Shahnaz, who was born in Pakistan and worked as a lab technician in the U.S. Shahnaz was charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering. She is currently being held without bail.
“The defendant defrauded numerous financial institutions and obtained over $85,000 in illicit proceeds, which she converted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies,” the DOJ explained in a statement. “She then laundered and transferred the funds out of the country to support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS”) … After consummating the scheme, the defendant attempted to leave the United States and travel to Syria. Shahnaz, a U.S. citizen, was arrested yesterday.”
Shahnaz allegedly obtained the funds by falsely representing herself and tricking banks into giving her a $22,500 loan and over a dozen credit cards. She then used these to buy around $62,000 in cryptocurrencies online, according to the district attorney’s office. After obtaining the digital dollars, she wired them to individuals and shell corporations in Pakistan, China and Turkey that were destined for the terrorist organization ISIS.
According to the BBC, prosecutors said Shahnaz got a Pakistani passport in July and attempted to board a flight at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport for Pakistan on July 31, with a layover in Turkey. She was arrested at JFK airport because officials said her itinerary was suspect and prosecutors believed she was trying to leave the U.S. for Syria to join ISIS, according to the DOJ statement.
“Her itinerary included a multi-day layover in Istanbul, Turkey – a common point of entry for individuals traveling from Western countries to join ISIS in Syria,” the DOJ document stated. “The defendant’s return ticket had been booked for September 4, 2017 on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to JFK.”
The BBC says Ms Shahnaz faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the money laundering charges and up to 30 years for the bank fraud charge.
Her lawyer, Steve Zissou, claims she was sending money overseas to help Syrian refugees, reported the BBC.
“What she saw made her devoted to lessening the suffering of a lot of the Syrian refugees and everything she does is for that purpose,” Mr Zissou said outside the courthouse, to the BBC.