Feds: Long Island woman who worked at NYC hospital funneled money to ISIS via Bitcoin

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Thursday, December 14, 2017
Feds: LI woman funneled money to ISIS via Bitcoin
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Zoobia Shanaz, 27, of Brentwood, is charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.

BRENTWOOD, Long Island (WABC) -- A Long Island woman who worked at a hospital in Manhattan is accused of laundering tens of thousands of dollars via Bitcoin to support ISIS.

Zoobia Shanaz, 27, of Brentwood, is charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Shanaz -- in June and July -- used at least 16 credit cards in her name to buy more than $62,700 in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. She also allegedly obtained a $22,500 loan from a bank in Manhattan a few months later in June. All of the money was deposited into two different bank accounts and then later wired to people in Pakistan, China and Turkey.

Prosecutors believe Shanaz used methods designed to avoid transaction reporting requirements and conceal the identity, source and destination of the illicitly-obtained money.

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Investigators said all of Shanaz's efforts were intended to help and support the Islamic State, which she had planned to join.

Here are some additional details from a court filing:

"Specifically, the investigation has revealed that, during the time she was committing bank fraud and moving money overseas, the defendant accessed ISIS propaganda, violent jihad-related websites and message boards, and social media and messaging pages of known ISIS recruiters, facilitators and financiers. Additionally, the defendant conducted numerous internet searches for maps of and locations within ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, and attempted to locate information that would facilitate her entry into Syria."

Here is a list of Internet searches prosecutors said Shanaz made immediately before her attempted trip:

  • Google searches for and accessed pages of known ISIS recruiters, financiers, and fighters, including those who have urged lone-wolf attacks against American targets
  • A Google search for "diwan and their functions isis"
  • Videos of ISIS members from the United States and Europe urging Muslims to carry out attacks in Western countries
  • Accessing ISIS-produced internet magazines, including an issue which featured various suggestions to ISIS sympathizers living in the West for hostage takings and attacks
  • Travel-related Google searches, such as "flights to Istanbul," "taking cash while travelling abroad," "travel checks in Turkey," "ATM machine withdrawal limit in Turkey," "how much money can I send myself western union," "hotels in Istanbul close to airport," "how much overdraft can I get," and "sanctions definition"
  • Google search for "medical students ISIS" and accessed the "khilafamedics" Tumblr page
  • Accessing maps of locations along the Turkey-Syria border and cities inside of ISIS-controlled territory
  • Articles about women joining and fighting for ISIS, including one entitled "Islamic State: Who are the Top Female Jihadis"

According to prosecutors, Shanaz got a Pakistani passport and quit her job as a lab tech in June -- but didn't tell her family. She booked her flight to Syria to leave out of NYC on July 31 and headed to airport that day, all while her family thought she was going to work.

Her plans: to join ISIS, investigators said.

"Her itinerary included a multi-day layover in Istanbul, Turkey -- a common point of entry for individuals travelling (sic) from Western countries to join ISIS in Syria," a court document stated. "The defendant's return ticket had been booked for September 4, 2017 on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to JFK."

But investigators said Shanaz had no plans to return back to the U.S. She had allegedly done Internet searches for "one-way tickets to Istanbul" but purchased a round trip ticket because it would be deemed less suspicious by law enforcement agents.

As she was arriving for her flight at JFK Airport, agents intercepted her at the gate and questioned her. They said she gave false and conflicting explanations about her overseas wire transfers.

She was taken into custody and later charged. She has no known prior criminal history.

In all, federal authorities said Shanaz accessed more than $85,000 in illicit funds and had made no attempt to pay back the credit cards she used to purchase Bitcoin.

"The defendant presents an irremediable flight risk and an extreme danger to the community," prosecutors said in a court filing. "Accordingly, she must be detained pending trial."