A large goup of accomplaces allegedly financing a jihadist network in Syria have been arrested after a sting operation by French police — despite choosing cryptocurrency coupons in an attempt to cover their tracks.
In a statement, police said that "constant surveillance of these networks prompted terrorist organisations to seek more opacity by using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin," as reported on Sept. 30.
Since 2019, the 29 accomplices have allegedly been supporting the operations of an Al-Qaeda affiliate terror organization, called “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.”
The network’s architects are reportedly two French jihadists in their mid-20s, who are both thought to be in northeastern Syria at present. Both were sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia in 2016.
The 29 members of the network were busted after being caught purchasing cryptocurrency coupons worth between 10 and 150 euros each ($12–$176) on multiple occasions in recent months from tobacco outlets across France.
These outlets, known in French as tabacs, were last year integrated into crypto coupon services to encourage the adoption of cryptocurrencies by the French public.
Today’s report on the financing of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham notes that there are currently around 24,000 licensed tabacs across the country.
Alongside the coupons the defendants allegedly used to credit their Syrian accomplices’ Bitcoin (BTC) accounts, these tabacs support a range of small payments services like cashcard top-ups and money coupons. These services, notably, don’t require proof-of-identity.
The anti-terror prosecutors' office has claimed that the use of cryptocurrency coupons by the network represents a turn away from the more prevalent choice of cash to support nefarious activities.
As Cointelegraph previously reported, a range of militant groups, most of which are defined as terrorist organizations by some countries, have increasingly turned to cryptocurrencies to support their fundraising activities. Most of these organizations are financially isolated, with many global banks barring services to them using illicit terror financing prevention mechanisms.