A 17-year old Virginia teen, Ali Shukri Amin, has been sentenced to 136 months in jail for advising on how to support the ISIS terrorist group, including how to fund it with bitcoin. In addition, he is subject to a lifetime of supervised release and monitored internet activities.
Amin pleaded guilty to charges in June. According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), Amin used social media to provide “material support” to ISIS. Specifically, he allegedly encouraged ISIS supporters on Twitter and advised them on how to fund terrorist activities with bitcoin.
The DoJ said that using the Twitter handle @Amreekiwitness, Amin advised on how to use bitcoin to “mask the provision of funds to ISIL,” as well as providing “facilitation to ISIL supporters seeking to travel to Syria to fight with ISIL.”
He reportedly admitted to facilitating such travel for Reza Niknejad, 18, to join ISIS. Niknejad was subsequently charged with conspiring to provide support for terrorists and ISIS and conspiring to kill and injure people abroad.
Bitcoin and other digital currencies power much of the illegal commerce taking place online. Its anonymous architecture makes it extremely difficult for law enforcement to track down and apprehend users. Authorities around the world have warned extensively on Bitcoin for such uses, although its actual use for funding ISIS remains unclear. Previous reports suggested possible interest by the group in Bitcoin and Dark Wallet technology, but the US Department of Homeland Security later assessed that the group does not appear to be using Bitcoin.
Prosecutors sought a 15-year sentence, but US District Court Judge Claude Hilton “took a slightly more lenient view on the teenager’s punishment, giving him 11 years instead,” according to the DoJ press release.
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ISIS, or ISIL, is the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant. It has emerged as today’s most preeminent terrorist group, capturing large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. The group has amassed vast financial resources, allowing it make continued advances with relative success.
ISIS has made its presence well known in social media, where it posts videos of beheadings and recruits fighters and supporters. US Attorney Dana J. Boente commented, “Today’s sentencing demonstrates that those who use social media as a tool to provide support and resources to ISIL will be identified and prosecuted with no less vigilance than those who travel to take up arms with ISIL.”
FBI Lurking in High School?
Field Office and Chief Stephan Hudson of the Prince William County noted the key role of school staff in the monitoring of Amin. “Observations made by school staff and subsequent follow-up by the School Resource Officer were some of the earlier indicators of suspicious behavior regarding this individual. Those observations were quickly relayed to our partners with the JTTF who acted upon this information very quickly,” he said.
A reddit commenter claims that he attended the same school, Osbourn Park in Manassas, and that it was a “big deal” when Amin got arrested. He notes that Amin is “extremely smart”, and “had offers from MIT as a junior.” He also founded his own “Arab bitcoin exchange” and had extensive knowledge of encryption technologies. On the outside, Amin seemed “completely normal.”
Most noteworthy is the claim that there had been a number of extra “teachers” and “administrators” present in the school for several weeks, and that they were in fact undercover FBI agents. The claim has yet to be verified.
Amin has reportedly written for digital currency news site CoinBrief.