ISIS Operative Charged With COVID Scam by DOJ, Allegedly Sold Fake PPE Online to Raise Money for Terrorist Group

The U.S. has accused Murat Cakar, an Islamic State hacker, of selling fake personal protective equipment (PPE) online during the coronavirus pandemic to fund the militant organization.

Cakar allegedly scammed money through the FaceMaskCenter.com website in efforts to fundraise for al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS) and the military arm of Hamas. The website sold N95 face masks that it falsely said were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Turkish national has been described by authorities as an "ISIS facilitator who is responsible for managing select ISIS hacking operations."

This comes as the U.S. Justice Department seized millions of dollars' worth of cryptocurrency, as well as 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites and four Facebook pages used for the alleged fundraising, on Thursday.

"These actions represent the government's largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency in the terrorism context," the Justice Department said in a statement.

U.S. officials say these cyber-enabled campaigns are a way for militant groups to raise funds from around the world.

The funds seized by federal authorities were solicited to buy weapons and train members of the organization, according to Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.

Attorney General William Barr said the latest crackdown exposes how militants have adapted in the Internet age.

"It should not surprise anyone that our enemies use modern technology, social media platforms and cryptocurrency to facilitate their evil and violent agendas," Barr said in a statement. "Terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies."

Iraqui soldier
An Iraqi soldier at the Qayyarah air base, where U.S.-led troops helped Iraqis fight the Islamic State in northern Iraq, on March 26, 2020. On Thursday, the Department of Justice charged an ISIS operative with a coronavirus-related scam used to fundraise for the militant group. Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP

A third case involving a military wing of Hamas asked for bitcoin donations through the Al-Qassam Brigades' social media page, saying that donations would be untraceable.

While bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are pseudonymous, they are not entirely anonymous and can be traced. Law enforcement agencies have tracked these transactions as these currencies have become more popular and have successfully linked payments to individuals.

"Terrorist networks have adapted to technology, conducting complex financial transactions in the digital world, including through cryptocurrencies," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. "Today's actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to holding malign actors accountable for their crimes."

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Justice for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.