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The use of crypto-currencies in funding violent jihad

Angela S.M. Irwin (Centre of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
George Milad (Centre of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Money Laundering Control

ISSN: 1368-5201

Article publication date: 3 October 2016




The purpose of this paper is to look at current discourse on the topic of crypto-currencies, more specifically Bitcoins, and their application to funding acts of terror. The paper clearly establishes the risks posed by this new payment technology and value transfer system to assist in the process of funding, planning and implementing acts of terror.


Publications, blogs and sites published and administered by terrorists groups and their supporters are examined to determine their interest in leveraging emerging payment and value transfer systems to facilitate the funding, planning and implementation of terror attacks. Press releases and other publications are also examined to determine whether crypto-currencies have been used by these groups in fund raising, fund transfer or recent terror attacks.


Although it is difficult to find concrete evidence of largescale use of Bitcoins and other crypto-currencies by terrorist groups and their supporters, there is strong evidence to suggest that they have been linked to a number of terror attacks in Europe and Indonesia. Supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), jihadists and terrorist organisations are actively looking to and promoting the use of new and emerging technologies, such as Bitcoin, to mitigate some of the risks associated with traditional fund transfer methods. Some websites associated with terrorist organisations have started to collect donations in Bitcoins. Many Bitcoin ATMs and Bitcoin exchanges are located in countries that have seen significant numbers of foreign fighters join ISIS in the Middle East and are also positioned in countries that have seen increased risk of terror attack. These present a significant risk because they allow for the seamless, anonymous transfer of funds to and from terrorist groups and their supporters. The paper highlights the need for further in-depth research into reliable ways to circumvent the current difficulties experienced in differentiating illicit transactions from legitimate ones and establishing reliable means of attribution.


Using a document published by ISIS, which provides would-be jihadists detailed instructions on how they can get to Syria or Iraq without being detected, a set of models were created showing how this could be achieved using Bitcoins alone. From this scenario, red flag indicators and suspicious behaviour models have been created to determine whether they can be identified during detailed analysis of the Bitcoin blockchain which will be conducted in later stages of research.



Irwin, A.S.M. and Milad, G. (2016), "The use of crypto-currencies in funding violent jihad", Journal of Money Laundering Control, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 407-425.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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