Palestinian militant groups appeal for Bitcoin donations to promote jihad

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – Martyr Nabil Massoud Units’ Bitcoin donation banner

Palestinian militant groups have used their presence on social media to appeal to their supporters for donations. Factions such as Hamas, Fatah splinter groups, salafi-jihadi factions and others have conducted online campaigns to attract potential donations from anyone with an internet connection. The donation campaigns are setup to circumvent international laws and sanctions imposed by certain countries against the finance of terrorism.

Tutorial by al Qassam Brigades

Al Qassam Brigades sets up infrastructure for donations to the group

The military wing of Hamas, al Qassam Brigades, began an online campaign in early 2019 using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin to solicit donations for the cause of jihad against Israel. The militant group took to social media platforms such as Twitter, Telegram and Whatsapp to spread information about how to fund the militant group with cryptocurrency.

Al Qassam Brigades uses Bitcoin, which is a form of digital currency, a decentralized method of exchanging currency that does not involve a bank or government institution in the transaction.

What attracts militant groups to Bitcoin is the anonymity it provides the sender and receiver in a transaction. This allows the opportunity to circumvent international laws and sanctions that are in place against funding terrorism.

Last August, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned al Qassam Brigades and the IRGC’s Qods Force for funneling “tens of millions of dollars from Iran’s Qods Force through Hizballah in Lebanon to HAMAS for terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip.” That was through more traditional means of moving money; digital currency is encrypted and much more difficult to track.

Donation graphic from Tawhid al Jihad

Tawhid al Jihad ask for donations

Other militant factions associated with Hamas and its military arm also use Bitcoin to garner donations via social media campaigns.

The militant faction Popular Resistance Brigades and its military wing, Nasser Salah al Din Brigades, have a salafist division called Tawhid al Jihad. Jihad has been running a campaign via its Telegram channel and Facebook page for several years asking members of its channel to contact them to donate for the cause of jihad.

Banners (see picture above) have been created with an attached message on how to contact a representative of the militant to group to donate money primarily using Bitcoin.

Their message is: “Donate your money for the Mujahideen and contribute in defeating the enemy. Leave your fingerprint and participate in victory for your religion.”

Smaller militant groups appeal to their supporters

Jaysh al Umma (“Army of the Nation”) is an al Qaeda-inspired salafi-jihadi militant group that originates from the city of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

The relationship between Jaysh al Umma and Hamas has been strained since the Sunni militant group took control over the Gaza Strip more than a decade ago. Jaysh al Umma’s leader and members have been arrested by Hamas several times and the group’s weapons have also been subject to confiscation.

However, when it comes to soliciting donations abroad, Jaysh al Umma operates similarly to its counterpart militant groups by using Bitcoin as one of its methods for supporters to send money to the group.

In a recent banner, Jaysh al Umma offers information about Bitcoin for users to anonymously send money in support of the militant group.

“Your brothers in the campaign are pleased to receive your donations through the safest and easiest service of our time,” the campaign said.

“It is appropriate for the nature and conditions of our current age in most countries of the world, especially in light of this war against the Islamic nation in general, and its Mujahideen in particular, as it provides confidentiality in transferring money from and to any country around the world in a technical way available to everyone, God willing.”

A symptom of sanctions on Iran

The integration of Bitcoin by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups may be a symptom of sanctions placed on their chief backer, Iran. The Popular Resistance Committees (the political movement of the Nasser Salah al Din Brigades) stated in a Facebook post that their appeal for donations was due to the lack of resources and rejection from Iran for support.

Also, the information provided in the Tawhid al Jihad section above, was used in a recent report by the International Institute of Counter-Terrorism to track the use of Bitcoin by Hamas, and Nasser Salah al Din Brigades (the armed wing Tawhid al Jihad belongs to) to finance terrorism.

Other militant groups in the Gaza Strip such as al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fursan al Fatah, and a salafi-Jihadi group, Jaysh al Islam, regularly post on social media channels how to contact the group to donate money.

This is an indication that the use of Bitcoin is working to circumvent sanctions while keeping donors anonymous and safe from potential legal trouble. However, there is very little evidence to indicate how much money is illegally being funneled to Palestinian militant groups via cryptocurrency.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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