What to Know
- A 27-year-old Long Island woman is charged with stealing and laundering money to send to ISIS
- She allegedly fraudulently obtained credit cards, and then bought cryptocurrency like Bitcoin to launder the money
- Once the funds were laundered, she would transfer the money out of the US, court filings allege
A Long Island woman has been charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars to send to Islamic State fighters in Syria using Bitcoin.
But her lawyer says she was simply collecting money to help Syrian refugees.
Zoobi Shahnaz, 27, is accused of giving banks phony financial information so she could get credit cards and a loan totaling value at more than $85,000 before trying to send that money to ISIS overseas, according to a statement released Thursday by the U.S. Attorney's office in Central Islip.
Shahnaz, of Brentwood, had also done extensive internet research on moving to Syria to join ISIS, including "tips and reminders" on making the move, and had read articles on the "top female jihadis," prosecutors say.
Shahnaz was charged in a grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday with bank fraud and money laundering to support a foreign terrorist organization. She appeared in court later that evening where she pleaded not guilty to the charges. Defence lawyer Steve Zissou said his client was not helping ISIS, but was instead collecting money for humanitarian means.
The Pakistani-born woman worked as a lab technician at a hospital in Manhattan until June, prosecutors said.
In January of 2016, she traveled to Jordan to volunteer with the Syrian American Medical Society, and provided medical aid to Syrian refugees in Amman and in a refugee camp where ISIS exercises significant influence.
Between March and July, Shahnaz engaged in a scheme to defraud multiple financial institutions netting over $85,000, through fraudulently obtaining credit cards and a loan, prosecutors allege. From there, she used the funds to purchase $62,703.71 in Bitcoin and other similar cryptocurrencies that according to the court filings provided her an additional layer of privacy for her scheme to funnel money to the terror group.
Shahnaz bought cryptocurrency with the credit cards, converting it to U.S. dollars and then transferring it into a bank account in her name, court filings said. She then allegedly transfer the laundered funds out of the country to support ISIS, prosecutors allege.
They say that on July 31 she then tried to fly out of John F. Kennedy International Airport to Pakistan and Istanbul -- a common point of entry for Westerners trying to reach ISIS in Syria. But law enforcement agents stopped her at the gate and arrested her, according to the filings.
Shahnaz was held without bail.