Crime & Justice

France arrests 29 in anti-terror Syria financing sting



This photograph, taken February 12th, shows the sign of a tobacconist's shop in Nantes, western France. [Loic Venance/AFP]

French police on Tuesday (September 29th) arrested 29 people in a sting operation targeting a network of terror financing for extremists in Syria, prosecutors said.

The network, active since 2019, mostly operated via the purchase of crypto-currency coupons whose references were given to extremist contacts in Syria and then credited to bitcoin accounts, the anti-terror prosecutors' office said.

This marks a departure from previous methods to transfer funds identified by France's anti-terror financing and money laundering services, which mostly involved cash mandates, the office said in a statement.

"Constant surveillance of these networks prompted terrorist organisations to seek more opacity by using crypto-currencies such as bitcoin," it said.

Two French extremists, identified as Mesut S and Walid F, both 25, are believed to be the architects of the network, working from north-eastern Syria, the prosecutors said.

They are suspected members of extremist alliance Tahrir Al-Sham.

They were both sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia in 2016, and are the target of an international arrest warrant.

Their accomplices were caught after purchasing coupons worth 10 to 150 euros ($12 to $176) each on many occasions over recent months in several locations in France.

The coupons are available at licenced tobacco outlets known as Tabacs, of which there are about 24,000 in France, that also offer various small payments services, without requiring proof of identity.

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