The FBI said financial records obtained with grand jury subpoenas show that from late 2019 to summer 2022, Chhipa purchased $172,000 in virtual currency and also collected $15,000 in digital funds from others. An FBI agent alleged in a court filing that more than $18,000 “went to wallets known to be used by ISIS women located in Syria,” but that the total funds Chhipa sent to smuggle Islamic State women out of the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria could be much higher. The agent said $60,000 remained unaccounted for as of Friday.
Chhipa communicated frequently with a British-born woman and member of the Islamic State who was living in Syria and remains at large in that country, and the two appeared to discuss moving money overseas in a way that might avoid detection, U.S. 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.
Court records did not list an attorney for Chhipa. A public defender who was on duty for his initial appearance Friday did not respond to a request for comment.
Many of the women held in the al-Hol refugee camp were married to Islamic State fighters who were killed or captured on the battlefield as the terrorist organization fought U.S.-backed forces for control of Syrian territory, and the FBI said the camp “is assessed to be a stronghold of ISIS ideology.”
U.S. officials said Chhipa, who was born in India and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, began using social media to fundraise for “sisters” in the al-Hol camp beginning in 2019, claiming the money was for “shelter.” PayPal blocked an account he had been using to receive funds in March 2021, the FBI said.
In August 2021, Chhipa met with an undercover FBI employee, collected $300, and wired it to his female Islamic State contact in Syria, according to the FBI affidavit. He collected another $120 in October 2021, $260 in November 2021, and $160 in January 2022 from the same undercover FBI employee. On those three occasions, he remained in his vehicle while his mother retrieved the cash, and then he transmitted it to his female contact in Syria, the filing says.
An FBI search of Chhipa’s home in 2019 turned up “thousands of videos, pictures, essays, books, notes, and search histories about extremist ideology, jihad, ISIS, and violent propaganda on multiple devices,” including instructions on how to build explosive devices and “images depicting what appears to be a beheading of an ISIS prisoner,” the FBI said.
According to media reports, Chhipa was the subject of an Interpol blue notice — which is used so authorities can collect more information about a person for a criminal investigation — that had been submitted by the FBI in 2019 because he was suspected of “publishing support for violent jihad and radical Islam.” Chhipa was taken into custody at a migrant detention center near the Mexican-Guatemalan border and deported to Washington, D.C., on Aug. 16, 2019, Mexican officials said in the media reports.
In its affidavit unsealed Friday, the FBI made no mention of Chhipa having been deported back to the United States.
But the filing says that in March 2019, Chhipa stated online: “I’ve already planted the seeds and realized that I only have 3-4 destinations in life,” including “Hijrah/Jihaad,” which the FBI said “likely refers to his desire to travel outside of the United States to fight in defense of Muslim lands.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria declined to comment Friday. The court scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to determine whether Chhipa should be held in jail pending trial.