Israel to target Hamas cryptocurrency accounts after 'spike' in donations
Israel will begin seizing cryptocurrency accounts used by the Hamas movement, the country's defence ministry has announced, following a reported "spike" in bitcoin donations after Israel's latest offensive on Gaza.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered the move after a joint operation "uncovered a web of electronic wallets" allegedly used by Hamas to raise funds using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the ministry said.
Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have been a challenge for state intelligence agencies, as they are harder to trace than some traditional banking methods. But on Thursday, Gantz noted a "breakthrough" in tracing technology.
"The intelligence, technological and legal tools that enable us to get our hands on terrorists' money around the world constitute an operational breakthrough," Gantz was quoted as saying.
Israel's defence ministry accused the Hamas movement, which governs Gaza, of waging an online campaign to raise donations for its military wing, following Israel's deadly May bombardment of the besieged Strip.
The order comes after the Wall Street Journal published an interview earlier last month with a senior Hamas official who said the group had seen a "spike" in bitcoin donations after Israel's 11-day offensive.
US moves on Hamas cryptocurrency
The report also prompted action in the US, as weeks later a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers moved to introduce legislation that would strengthen sanctions against Hamas.
Citing an alleged rise in Hamas cryptocurrency donations, the lawmakers said the bill, titled the Hamas International Financing Prevention Act, would target sanctions against individuals, agencies or governments that assist Hamas or other armed groups operating in Gaza, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Last year, the US Justice Department said that millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency had been seized from armed groups, including from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. At the time, the department said that such groups were relying on the digital funds to finance their organisations and violent plots.
The department said it had confiscated about $2m, in addition to more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites and four Facebook pages related to the schemes.
At least 150 of the cryptocurrency accounts were allegedly used to launder funds to and from accounts operated by the armed wing of the Hamas movement, the Justice Department said.