A Fairfax County man in the state of Virginia who showed his support for violent jihad online secretly sent thousands of dollars to women from the Islamic State, hoping to smuggle them out of a Syrian refugee camp, writes Fox News.
Mohammed Azharuddin Chhipa, 33 years old, is charged by the FBI with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organisation. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Chhipa was jailed Friday after a hearing in Alexandria federal court.
From late 2019 to summer 2022, Chhipa bought $172,000 in cryptocurrency and raised $15,000 in digital funds from others. An FBI agent alleges in a lawsuit that more than $18,000 went to crypto wallets known to be used by ISIS women in Syria.
The FBI speculates that the total sums Chhipa sent to smuggle Islamic State women out of the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria could be much higher. The agent said that $60,000 still needs to be accounted for.
Chhipa communicated frequently with a British-born woman who was a member of the Islamic State and who lived in Syria and is still at large in that country. The two discussed moving money abroad in a way that could avoid detection, US officials said.
The woman, who was not identified by name in court papers, told Chhipa over social media that any funds sent to her were “never sent directly to me” but to accounts in Turkey “and then secretly sent to me with no tracks,” according to an FBI affidavit. Chhipa responded, “I know how it works,” according to the filing.
Many of the women held captive in the al-Hol refugee camp were married to fighters from the Islamic State, writes WP, and the FBI considers the camp to be a stronghold of ISIS’s ideology.
Chhipa, who was born in India and is an American citizen, began using social media to raise money for “sisters” in the al-Hol camp starting in 2019, claiming the money was for shelter.
PayPal blocked an account he had used to receive money in March 2021, the FBI said.
In August 2021, Chhipa met with an undercover FBI agent and collected $300, which he transferred to the IS woman who was his contact in Syria. He collected another $120 in October 2021, $260 in November 2021 and $160 in January 2022 from the same agent. On these three occasions he remained in the car while his mother collected the cash.
When the FBI searched Chhipa’s home in 2019, they found thousands of videos, photos, essays, books, notes and search stories about extremist ideology, jihad, IS and violent propaganda, including instructions on how to build explosives. They also found photos showing the beheading of an IS prisoner.
According to media reports, Chhipa was the subject of a blue notice from Interpol – which is used so that the authorities can collect more information about a person in a criminal investigation. The FBI received information from Interpol in 2019, when he was suspected of publishing support for violent jihad and radical Islam.
Chhipa was detained in a migrant detention centre near the Mexico-Guatemala border and deported to Washington, D.C. August 16, 2019, according to media reports from Mexico.
In the indictment from the FBI they did not mention that Chhipa was deported back to the United States, WP writes.
— Middle East Forum (@meforum) August 24, 2019
But the indictment says that in March 2019, Chhipa stated online:
I have already planted the seeds and realised that I only have 3-4 destinations in life, including Hijrah/Jihad, which the FBI said probably refers to his desire to travel outside the US to fight to defend Muslim countries.
The court scheduled a hearing Wednesday to decide whether Chhipa should be held in jail pending trial.
Many questions remain
Apart from the tweet from the Middle East Forum, there is no information about Chhipa on the FBI’s website, not even photos. In contrast to, for example, those charged from 6 January. This is not classified information.
Why was he deported back to the US? Why did it take 4 years for the FBI to arrest him? Why didn’t the FBI mention that the man was sequestered at the Mexico border?
Where did he get the money from? Thousands of dollars, but only a few hundred bucks from the agent? Is his mother arrested? When did he come to the US? When did he get citizenship?
We have many questions, but will probably never get the answers. In this case, Fox News was more sparing with the details than the Washington Post.