Pakistani security officials have reportedly tracked down and arrested an individual linked with transferring money to members of the Islamic State militant groups in Syria through ‘bitcoin’, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency.
Anti-terrorism police forces of Pakistan on Monday (January 18) arrested Muhammad Omer Bin Khalid, a student of Karachi’s reputed NED University of Engineering and Technology, on charges of having links with global terror groups.
According to the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Sindh Police, Omer had transferred money to the dreaded Islamic State terrorists based in Syria. The police said that Omer was about to board a train from Karachi to flee when the city when he was arrested.
“He is a final year student at the NED University of Engineering and Technology. This student has been involved in sending money to families of militants linked with the global Islamic State group in Syria,”
“He used to hand over the money in cash to one Zia, in Hyderabad, who converted it into dollars before sending it to Syria,” said Deputy Inspector General of Police CTD Omar Shahid Hamid.”
The police official also revealed how Omer had already been arrested last year but was released on bail due to lack of evidence and a petition filed in the high court against his arrest by his mother, Tayyaba Khalid.
“We detained him initially and seized two mobile phones from him and also a laptop on December 17 last year. At the time, however, the suspect was released on bail as the CTD had no concrete evidence against him,” said Hamid.
However, Omer was finally rearrested after forensic examination proved his links to the Islamic State militants.
“But a forensic examination of the seized gadgets later confirmed the suspect had links with persons who collected funds from Pakistan and sent them to IS militants in Syria. The report also established that he was in direct contact with suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Syria through their families,” said Hamid.
According to the police, many people were involved in transferring money to the IS militants with the conversion of the funds into Bitcoin crypto-currency. Hamid said that as per the initial estimates, Omer has already sent over a total amount worth one million rupees ($13,660) to the militants.
Created in January of 2009 in the aftermath of the housing market crash, Bitcoin is a digital currency that offers the promise of lower transaction fees than traditional online payment mechanisms.
While the identity of the person or group of people who created the technology still remains a mystery, Bitcoin follows the ideas set out in a whitepaper by the mysterious and pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto.
Unlike government-issued currencies, Bitcoin is operated by a decentralized authority.
Bitcoins are intangible which means that they are not available in physical forms at all, unlike money. There are only balances kept on a public ledger that everyone has transparent access to. That, alongside all Bitcoin transactions, is verified by a massive amount of computing power. 11
No government or banks have the ability to issue or back the Bitcoin cryptocurrencies, with the individual Bitcoins not valuable as commodities either.
While the cryptocurrencies are not legal tender, they still chart very high on the basis of popularity and have led to the launch of hundreds of other virtual currencies collectively known as Altcoins.
Considered to be the most valuable cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin had a massive growth in 2017, however, many have highlighted the role of these currencies in enabling financial crime as well as terror funding.
The main reason for this is attributed to the level of anonymity that these digital currencies can provide to militants or criminals in general, who can be technologically adept.
Unlike conventional currencies, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are decentralized and are therefore not subject to the same reviews, regulations, and monitoring.
In other words, militant groups have the freedom to carry out cryptocurrency transactions by bypassing the regulatory controls that banks are legally required to perform.
Moreover, while cryptocurrency is being traded-in many countries across the world, the State Bank of Pakistan declared the use, purchase, and sale of this currency in Pakistan illegal, back in 2017.
This is not the first incident where a student has been arrested in Pakistan in relation to having links with militant groups.
Just like the case of Omer, students belonging to Karachi University have been found to be involved with Islamic State.
According to a Pakistani police official, speaking to the BBC, women belonging to the families of the IS militants in Syria, who are fluent in Urdu, can communicate with such individuals by gaining sympathy from them through Twitter and other social media sites.