A Long Island woman has been accused of bank fraud and laundering more than $85,000 worth of Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies to support the Islamic State.
The Department of Justice said on Thursday that the 27-year-old woman, Zoobia Shahnaz, is being charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and three counts of money laundering, ABC News reported.
“The defendant defrauded numerous financial institutions and obtained over $85,000 in illicit proceeds, which she converted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies,” the Department of Justice explained in a statement about the unsealed five-count federal court indictment.
“She then laundered and transferred the funds out of the country to support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS),” the statement continued. “After consummating the scheme, the defendant attempted to leave the United States and travel to Syria. Shahnaz, a U.S. citizen, was arrested yesterday.”
According to the court record, Shahnaz worked as a lab technician in a hospital in Manhattan up until June 2017, and around June 2016 she volunteered in Jordan with the Syrian American Medical Society.
As part of her volunteer work, she was working in a refugee camp where the prosecutors said “ISIS exercises significant influence.”
Shahnaz’s attorney, Steve Zissou, said she never attempted to help ISIS and only wanted to help the Syrian refugees she had come across while volunteering.
“Whatever she did was for humanitarian purposes only,” Zissou said.
Yet prosecutors claim Shahnaz fraudulently obtained six credit cards and a loan from a Manhattan bank, which she then used to procure $85,000 to convert to cryptocurrencies in order to transfer the funds overseas and provide financial support to ISIS. Agents have accused the Long Island resident of providing conflicting explanations about the wire transfers.
Shahnaz was suspected of foul play while attempting to board a suspicious flight at JFK airport in New York City on July 31. She was questioned by law enforcement officials at the airport while attempting to board a flight to Pakistan with a layover in Turkey. Her return flight was booked for Sept. 4 from Istanbul, Turkey back to JFK.
Prosecutors pointed out that ISIS recommends those who wish to travel and join ISIS buy round trip tickets because it appears less suspicious.
She is being held without bail, pending trial. Her next court date is Jan. 5.