A Brentwood woman was arrested Wednesday for allegedly laundering more than $85,000 using Bitcoin and sending it to ISIS, the international terrorist organization based in Syria and Iraq, federal prosecutors said.
Zoobia Shahnaz was charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering at Central Islip federal court.
“Syria is a perilous and violent war-torn country, but the subject in this investigation was allegedly so determined to assist ISIS that she planned a covert, illegal entry into Syria,” said William Sweeney, Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s New York office. “On top of which, she allegedly tried to launder virtual currency to bolster terrorists’ dwindling financial support.”
Prosecutors said the 27-year-old US citizen fraudulently applied for more than a dozen credit cards that she used to purchase Bitcoin, then transferred the funds to shell entities in Pakistan, China and Turkey. The ultimate destination for the money was the Islamic State, according to investigators. Her lawyer maintains that she was sending the money to help Syrian refugees.
Law enforcement questioned her in July when she tried to board a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Islamabad, Pakistan with a multi-day layover in Istanbul, Turkey, which authorities said is a common point of entry for individuals travelling from Western countries to join ISIS in Syria.
Shahnaz faces up to 30 years in prison, if convicted. Federal authorities thanked Suffolk County police for their assistance in the investigation.
She is the eighth person with Long Island ties implicated in a terror plot since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Bryant Neal Vinas of Patchogue, an al-Qaeda recruit-turned-informant, was released from jail this year.
Westbury native Samir Khan, the one-time editor of al-Qaeda’s magazine, was killed in a drone strike in Yemen six years ago. Mohammad Younis of Centereach pleaded guilty in 2011 to unwittingly providing $7,000 to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square Bomber. And Elvis Redzepagic, of Commack, was arrested in March for trying to join ISIS.
In addition, fellow Brentwood residents Marcos Alonso Zea and Justin Kaliebe were sentenced two years ago to 25 years and 13 years in prison, respectively, for trying to join al-Qaeda. And Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, who grew up in Westbury, pledged allegiance to ISIS during the Orlando massacre.