A high-level conspiracy of silence surrounding a US terrorism prosecution raises serious questions over whether the FBI possesses technological means to bypass dark web user anonymity, or alternatively manages extremist group recruitment sites in secret, in order to entrap unsuspecting visitors.
US citizen Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari was charged in May 2020 with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. He came to the attention of the FBI due to a series of visits he made to a dark web site, which hosts “unofficial propaganda and photographs related to ISIS” in May 2019.
The Bureau pinpointed specific pages of the site Al-Azhari perused including sections on making donations, ISIS media assets, photos and videos, and stories of military operations allegedly conducted by ISIS fighters in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. These actions were linked to him directly by uncovering his IP address, and therefore his identity and location.
Al-Azhari accessed the site via the TOR browser, which theoretically provides anonymity to users, and makes it difficult if not impossible for a site’s owner or external prying eyes to track visitor IPs. A recent court filing by Al-Azhari’s lawyers reveals that’s precisely what the FBI did though and exactly how they achieved this is being withheld by government decree.
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