herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

IS members use student 'mules' at colleges here to finance operations

Police officer at London Bridge in the aftermath of June’s attack. Photo: PA
Police officer at London Bridge in the aftermath of June’s attack. Photo: PA

Islamist extremists are using unsuspecting students in Irish third level colleges to transfer the proceeds of internet fraud to finance Islamic State terrorist operations.

The unwitting, mostly foreign, students are duped into opening personal accounts in Irish banks by secret IS sympathisers who are members of a back-up network providing logistical support in the form of cash and false travel documents to terrorists in Britain and Europe.

Known in the security world as "mules" the oblivious participants are given money to open the accounts in return for the PIN codes, ATM cards and online banking details.

Fraud

Money obtained from Irish companies through internet fraud - which is known as invoice redirection fraud - is then electronically transferred to these accounts.

From there, the cash is again transferred in small amounts to bank accounts outside the jurisdiction to avoid raising suspicions.

The Herald understands that at least half a dozen such accounts held in the names of unsuspecting students were set up to transfer the proceeds of a €2.8m internet fraud from an Irish company in September 2016.

While similar methods are used by internet fraud gangs around the world, this is the first time that such a major IS-inspired laundering conspiracy has been detected in Ireland.

A Sunday Independent investigation revealed how two of the Islamist extremists responsible for the London Bridge terror attack on June 3, which claimed eight lives and injured 41 people, had considered the prospect of carrying out a similar atrocity in Dublin two years ago.

Khuram Shazad Butt (27) and Rachid Redouane (31), who with a third accomplice were shot dead by UK police following the attack, had reconnoitred a number of high-profile locations in Dublin they identified as potential targets.

However, Butt and Redouane, who was married to an Irishwoman and lived in Dublin for a number of years, were told by their terrorist mentor, named 'Raza', that such an attack would be counter-productive because Ireland was better suited as a logistics and fundraising base.

Khuram Shazad Butt
Khuram Shazad Butt

The 33-year-old Pakistani-born UK citizen operated an internet fraud racket targeting Irish companies from an address in Santry, north Dublin.

Our investigation revealed that Raza is wanted by gardai in connection with the €2.8m fraud last September.

The suspected terror chief, who lived at an address in Santry, registered a front company at an address in an industrial park also in the Dublin suburb.

His fiancee, a 26-year-old Irishwoman who was radicalised after converting to Islam, was also listed as a director of the same company in a further attempt to avoid raising suspicions. It is understood that the specialist garda Counter Terrorism International (CTI) unit has been informed that the London Bridge killers regularly visited Raza at the Santry address.

A pizza delivery man, who had been duped by Raza, was arrested as he attempted to transfer a small amount of the money following a major undercover operation mounted by the Garda Economic Fraud Bureau.

Radicalising

Officers moved quickly to prevent the money leaving the jurisdiction when a bank account was frozen under the Criminal Justice Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act.

All of the money was returned to its rightful owner, a data processing company based in Dublin.

The shadowy figure is suspected of radicalising young Muslims for Islamic State and orchestrating similar invoice redirection fraud in the UK.

However, the Irish connections between Raza, the €2.8m internet fraud, Islamic State and the London Bridge attackers only came to light when Raza's fiancee broke her silence in the wake of the June outrage.

At a press conference organised by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council at the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown, the woman - who was heavily disguised and identified herself only by her Muslim name, 'Sister Aaliya' - said she met Butt about 20 times in Ireland and the UK.

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