An al-Qaeda linked entity and a pro-al-Qaeda online group recently promoted cryptocurrency analysis training courses on Telegram and Rocket.Chat as the prices of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies surge to new all-time highs. While these courses were marketed as informational and not specific to fundraising, they highlight the growing jihadist interest in cryptocurrencies for possible terror financing and fundraising via cryptocurrency trading.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Uses “Bitcoin Transfer” to Launder Money
Bitcoin Transfer is an Idlib-based cryptocurrency exchange office that facilitates the transfer of funds to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria. The province of Idlib is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—which the U.S. designated as a terrorist group—and is home to other al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Recent Chainalysis research indicates that Bitcoin Transfer is part of an al-Qaeda “cryptocurrency-based infrastructure for receiving and laundering donations.” This infrastructure, and specifically Bitcoin Transfer, was part of the terror financing campaign disrupted by the U.S. Justice Department. Bitcoin Transfer also facilitates the legitimate transfer of funds to anyone in Idlib, for a fee, ranging from 1.5% to 12%, depending on the method of transfer.
Bitcoin Transfer Offers Training Courses to Exploit Bitcoin Price Surges
On December 15, Bitcoin Transfer’s Telegram channel published an infographic promoting a cryptocurrency analysis course, conducted by an individual identified as “Ahmed.”
On December 28, 2020, Bitcoin Transfer’s Telegram channel again promoted a 15-day training course that’s:
“…both for beginners and advanced… you can ask him [the trainer] whenever you want… hurry up and reserve [your spot].” [translated from Arabic]
On January 3, 2021, with the price of Bitcoin surging past $34,000 and smashing previous record highs, the channel sought to capitalize on the attention and posted that their first lesson had concluded. The post also encouraged anyone interested in cryptocurrency trading to register for their upcoming training course, and to do so immediately.
Figure 1: Telegram Advert Promoting Cryptocurrency Training Course
Jihadist Cryptocurrency Courses Cost USD $100 to $350
Separately, Bitcoin Transfer also promoted an actor called al-Asmar,” who operates a Telegram channel providing cryptocurrency analysis known as “ASMAR Chart.” On December 28, 2020, the ASMAR Chart channel announced the launch of new training courses that cost between USD $100 to $350. While Flashpoint has not validated the exact nature of the relationship between Bitcoin Transfer and al-Asmar, it’s highly unlikely that Bitcoin Transfer would promote al-Asmar and his Telegram channel without some form of meaningful and mutually-beneficial partnership.
Jaysh al-Malahem Began Similar Cryptocurrency Trading Courses of Its Own
In a similar fashion, the pro-al-Qaeda online group “Jaysh al-Malahem al-Iliktroni” (Electronic Battle Army)—known for propaganda dissemination and social media “raiding” of top platforms—launched a cryptocurrency training course of its own on December 15, 2020, for its supporters:
“Dear supporters of the mujahideen brothers and the knights of media jihad, we announce the launch of a private cryptocurrency course by Jaysh al-Malahem al-Iliktroni… which is the first of its kind in the world of jihadist online armies… Those interested in registering for the course should reach out…” [translated from Arabic]
After registering for the course via the Jaysh al-Malahem Rocket.Chat channel, prospective course attendees are then added to a private Telegram group with more than 45 members. Discussions on the Telegram channel range from how to make money from cryptomining to which is the best hardware for storing the various digital currencies.
Notably, one of the group’s admins told members to avoid any mentions or references to jihad, as they will be deleted.
Jihadist Cryptocurrency Monetization Schemes Will Expand
As mainstream interest in Bitcoin and various other cryptocurrencies continues to gain traction, Flashpoint assesses further adoption by jihadist groups to grow as well. Jihadist groups’ cryptocurrency monetization efforts will likely take different forms, attempting to generate income through cryptotrading and paid training courses.
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