Iran has consistently emerged as one of Hamas’ primary financial supporters, generously providing vital resources for the militant group to execute acts of terrorism. Nevertheless, investigators in the United States and around the world have identified an additional revenue stream exploited by Hamas: distant online donors who extend their support in cryptocurrency.
Even prior to Hamas’ recent surprise attack on Israel, the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. had been actively pursuing a criminal investigation into the group’s cryptocurrency usage via alleged money launderers. This investigation, previously undisclosed, has revealed intriguing insights.
The details of the money laundering case have been shrouded in secrecy, with most court filings remaining sealed. However, the publicly available information suggests that it traces back to cryptocurrency accounts linked to Hamas, which were seized by the U.S. government three years ago. A court filing from May indicated that the case is “ongoing,” and proceedings in a related civil matter were temporarily halted to prevent interference.
Separately, cryptocurrency addresses tied to Hamas and another Palestinian militant group, seized by Israel, collectively contained tens of millions of dollars, according to private analysts interviewed by CNN.
Hamas’ use of digital currency represents just one facet of the group’s multifaceted efforts to raise funds while evading sanctions.
Efforts to counter their tactics are an ongoing, dynamic challenge. According to former CIA analyst Yaya Fanusie, who is now an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, “There’s not one financing method for Hamas or other terrorist organizations. They’re opportunistic and adaptive.”
Some calls for donations have been quite public. Hamas and other terrorist groups have utilized social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to post their cryptocurrency wallet addresses and instruct individuals on how to contribute, as reported by the Department of Homeland Security. In 2019, charges were filed against a New Jersey man who openly declared his donation to Hamas on Instagram and was accused of sending bitcoin to the group.
Governments have taken measures to regulate such transactions. For instance, in April, Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, announced its discontinuation of fundraising in bitcoin to protect its donors, as reported by Reuters. However, this hasn’t completely halted their efforts, as Israeli authorities recently froze additional cryptocurrency accounts allegedly used by Hamas for collecting donations during the ongoing conflict.
Apart from bitcoin, cryptocurrency wallets tied to Hamas, according to an Israeli government order, have included cryptocurrencies such as Ether, XRP, Tether, and others. The exact sum of cryptocurrency funds received by Hamas remains unclear, but evidence suggests it has accumulated substantial amounts. According to Dmitry Machikhin, CEO of crypto analytics software BitOK, addresses linked to Hamas received nearly $41 million between 2020 and 2023. Furthermore, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Hamas affiliate, allegedly held an additional $94 million, although it’s uncertain how much of this belonged directly to the group, as reported by Elliptic, another analytics firm.
Hamas and its al-Qassam Brigades have been highly successful in their use of cryptocurrency for fundraising, as noted by Arda Akartuna, a researcher with Elliptic. He explained that tracking their cryptocurrency activities has been complicated by the group’s use of “one-time-use” crypto addresses for individual donors and illicit money exchanges that anonymously convert cryptocurrency into cash without leaving a paper trail.
Iran stands as one of Hamas’ major benefactors, with reports indicating that it provides substantial annual funding to Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad. However, Hamas has also raised funds in other Gulf Arab countries and through its own charity organizations. The US Treasury Department has exposed channels through which Iranian funds reached Hamas via financiers based in Turkey and Lebanon. There have also been allegations of Iran using Russian companies to provide oil to Syria in exchange for Syria funneling funds to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which were subsequently sent to Hamas and Hezbollah.
Iran has employed various tactics to fund terrorist groups, including networks of shell companies, transactions concealed by high-ranking officials, and the use of precious metals to evade sanctions.
While Iran has both praised and denied involvement in Hamas’ actions, the White House National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, has stated that Iran has played a significant role in providing funding to the military wing of Hamas.
Hamas also raises funds through informal taxes and smuggling, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
CNN attempted to reach out to Hamas representatives for their response to these allegations but received no reply.
Government investigators are not the only ones tracking Hamas’ finances. Attorney Asher Perlin, representing the family of Yitzchak Weinstock, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists in 1993, has also been monitoring the group’s assets. The Weinstock family secured a legal judgment of nearly $80 million against Hamas in 2019, but collecting on that sum has proven challenging.
Perlin viewed the government’s pending forfeiture case as an opportunity to collect the funds his clients were owed. However, since filing the claim two years ago, the case has been repeatedly delayed as government lawyers sought more time for the related criminal investigation to proceed. The judge imposed a six-month stay on the forfeiture case in May due to the criminal investigation.
In a telephone interview from Israel, Perlin expressed frustration with the Justice Department, which has indicated that it will oppose allocating any forfeited assets to his clients.
As of now, the Weinstock family appears to be the only party attempting to enforce a judgment against Hamas, and Perlin believes there is no reason they should not be able to do so.