Sanctions by the US Treasury for 3 members of ISIS

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) placed three individuals associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on its sanctions list on January 30.

Mu’min Al-Mawji Mahmud Salim and Sarah Jamal Muhammad Al-Sayyid, Egyptian citizens, are together responsible for the creation of the Electronic Horizons Foundation (EHF). The innocuously named platform provides cybersecurity guidance and training to help ISIS members evade the prying eyes of law enforcement online.

In addition to founding the EHF, as indicated in the OFAC official press release, Al-Mawji founded an ISIS-affiliated media outlet to create and disseminate propaganda. He also played the role of IT manager of the ISIS leadership office and provided his expertise in the field of cryptocurrencies, for example, by publishing a tutorial on the EHF website with instructions on how to use them to donate to the organization.

Al-Sayyid collaborated with Al-Mawji on EHF’s cryptocurrency and logistics management efforts. He also recruited ISIS members to join the EHF and solicited web servers to host ISIS platforms.

OFAC also named and shamed a third ISIS collaborator, Faruk Guzel, from Turkey. He appears to have helped the organization with money transfers, receiving remittances from ISIS supporters and passing them on to members based in Syria.

How to sanction terrorists online

“Pairing cyber and physical has become more common in modern warfare,” says Padraic O’Reilly, founder and chief innovation officer of CyberSaint. And despite being very much in second place behind its kinetic actions, ISIS has always been able to cause some noise online.

“It’s well known that they’re not the most sophisticated group around, but they’ve had some success in stirring up trouble,” O’Reilly says. “ISIS generally hacks for propaganda purposes. They did it Websites defaced, Twitter hackedand has had some success publishing messages in the French and Swedish media.”

Just as in the kinetic sphere, however, ISIS’s online reach has slowed since its peak in the mid-2010s. OFAC, as with previous interventions by the United States AND other governments before itit will only serve to slow the group down further.

“This will probably disrupt some of the current channels that ISIS uses, but they will probably find new avenues, so this will be an ongoing process,” O’Reilly says. “These tools are effective, but the landscape is constantly evolving.”

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