Islamist militants are turning toward NFTs to disseminate and promote their cause. According to former senior U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, an NFT praising ISIS terrorists for an attack on a Taliban position in Afghanistan last month was created to be sold on NFT trading websites.
As global efforts clamp down against terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the creation of the NFT has been touted as a sign of extremist organizations' efforts to bypass traditional banking systems and raise funds through emerging financial technology.
The NFT, which was registered on OpenSea, was titled, “IS-NEWS #01,” and carried the Islamic State’s emblem.
A supporter of the terrorist organization reportedly created it as an experiment to test a new funding strategy for the group, the former intelligence officials told the WSJ.
Analysts who have studied the IS-NEWS #01 NFT say it is likely an effort by an Islamic State supporter to test whether authorities can be evaded and whether legitimate NFT marketplaces will delete the content or limit its availability.
“It’s very much an experiment…to find ways to make content indestructible,” said Raphael Gluck, co-founder of the U.S.-based research firm Jihadoscope, which discovered the NFT through pro-ISIS social-media accounts.
The IS-NEWS #01 NFT and two others from the same creator aren’t currently offered for sale on NFT marketplace Rarible or other platforms, but terrorist groups could clearly finance their operations through sales of NFTs, analysts said.
“It was only a matter of time,” said Yaya Fanusie, a former economic and counterterrorism analyst at the CIA to the publication.
An NFT is a unit of data stored on a blockchain, the same technology used by Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies. Beyond cryptocurrency, the technology has also been used for other applications, including the sale of concert and sports tickets, and digital trading cards.
There are no indications that the ISIS NFT was traded, but its existence and distribution across the blockchain made it nearly impossible for any government and law enforcement agency to remove it from the internet due to its decentralized nature.
As with everything on the blockchain, anything that gets stored is shared across countless computer systems and networks on the internet and becomes a permanent fixture online. Unlike a website that can be swiftly taken down by internet service providers, what gets put on the blockchain stays on the blockchain.
The move to spread the Islamic State’s message through the emerging technology comes as ISIS emerges from the ashes after being more or less destroyed by Russian and U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria over the past few years.
Remnants of the group threaten to foster a revival following U.S. President Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.