Since the start of the armed conflict with Israel last month, the Palestinian militant group Hamas has seen a surge in cryptocurrency donations, according to a senior Hamas official, taking advantage of a trend in online fundraising that has allowed it to fund its military operations while avoiding international sanctions.
The international spotlight on the recent fighting drove more visitors to Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, resulting in a boom in donations for the group’s military operations, according to a senior Hamas official. According to him, “there was clearly a spike” in bitcoin donations. “Some of the money is utilised for military operations to safeguard Palestinians’ basic rights.”
The United States, the European Union, and other Western governments have labelled Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, as a terrorist organisation. Because of the sanctions, it had to shift to covert sources of financing outside the international financial system years ago. As the bitcoin sector gained in popularity, Hamas began to take advantage of its ability to conceal transactions.
The Hamas official, who did not want to be identified, declined to reveal how much bitcoin the group has received, but did remark that its share of overall revenue is increasing. More than $1 million in cryptocurrencies linked to the al-Qassam Brigades was seized by US federal officials last year.
According to the US and its allies, Hamas supporters have channelled hundreds of millions of dollars to the terrorist organisation in recent years. The al-Qassam Brigades, for example, got more than $200 million from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the previous four years, according to the US Treasury.
High-profile battles, such as the one last month, offer Hamas a trigger for payments, according to Ari Redbord, a former senior Treasury Department official and federal prosecutor who specialised in terror-financing and cryptocurrency. Mr. Redbord, who now works for TRM Labs, a business that watches digital assets, said that terrorist organisations have usually utilised such types of rallying cries to drive engagement to their site, which promotes financing.
According to an analysis by the Counter Extremism Project, a New York-based nonprofit group that describes Hamas as a violent Islamist extremist group, al-flagship Qassam’s website, alqassam.ps, saw a significant increase in traffic and engagement between May 10 and 20, while Hamas and Israeli forces clashed.
During that time, the site’s prominence on traffic-tracking service Alexa jumped from 831,992 to among the top 100,000 websites online. According to Alexa, one in every five visitors to alqassam.ps is from Saudi Arabia. During the war, traffic and participation to another significant Palestinian militant website, saraya.ps, increased. According to Alexa, its ranking jumped from 993,000 to 255,885 after the conflict. According to the traffic-tracker, Yemen is home to the largest group of visitors, accounting for 28 percent.
The al-Qassam channel on Telegram, a Dubai-based encrypted messaging app that also facilitates financial transactions, has 261,000 followers, six times that of Hamas’ political branch. A request for comment from Telegram was not returned. In English-language subtitles accompanying the Arabic-language video, it says, “Ask any money exchange to deposit the sum in the wallet address you acquired from the Qassam website without stating to whom the address belongs.”
Financial sanctions experts believe Hamas has traditionally relied on sophisticated, covert networks involving European charities and commodities to fund its operations, or on backing from its backers in Iran and Qatar, which are both effectively blocked off from the global financial system due to a slew of US sanctions.
However, with traditional fundraising techniques being hampered by US sanctions, Hamas has turned to cryptocurrencies. The virtual money offers the Palestinian organisation the benefit of circumventing traditional financial institutions while remaining anonymous and nearly untraceable. “As additional constraints are placed on us, our fundraising techniques continue to evolve,” the Hamas official stated.
Hackers, ransomware extortionists, and other criminals have turned to cryptocurrency as a means of transaction. A previous US inquiry into al-usage Qassam’s of bitcoin discovered that the group had changed it to US cash or gift cards with the help of two Turkish intermediaries.
Hamas, for example, “doesn’t have to worry about the dogs sniffing it at the airport” with cryptocurrency, according to Eyal Pinko, former head of the intelligence division of Israel’s prime minister’s office. “These money transactions may be difficult to track. “Imaginative+ paraphrase: the sky is the limit.” Despite the fact that cryptocurrencies claim to provide anonymity, regulators and law enforcement officials in the United States have had some success preventing transactions.