U.S. and Italian authorities said Friday they arrested a group of hackers and conspirators who allegedly stole from phone companies around the world. The illegal profits funded terrorist activities, Italian officials alleged.
A federal grand jury in New Jersey indicted three people Friday, including one man who has been linked to Al Qaeda. The three suspects, who live in the Philippines, are accused of providing Pakistani nationals in Italy with access to stolen phone lines.
The same company that was used to pay the three hackers also financed the communications of terrorists in last year's Mumbai attacks, in which a small group killed more than 170 people, people familiar with the matter alleged.
Meanwhile, Italian officials arrested five Pakistani nationals Friday in an early-morning raid on 10 call centers suspected of involvement in the alleged scheme. Among those arrested were a husband-and-wife team who managed call centers in Brescia, Italy — Mohammad Zamir, 40 years old, and Shabina Kanwal, 38.
Call centers — storefronts providing local and long-distance phone service to the public — are used widely throughout Italy.
The Pakistani conspirators allegedly sold phone service from phone lines that were hacked into and used the funds to support terrorist activities, according to Italian authorities.
According to the U.S. indictment, Mahmoud Nusier, 40; Paul Michael Kwan, 27; and Nancy Gomez, 24, conspired to break into the phone systems at 2,500 entities in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe.
Philippines authorities have alleged that Mr. Nusier, a Jordanian citizen, has ties to Al Qaeda. All three were arrested last year by Philippines law enforcement and are currently free on bail. U.S. officials are seeking their extradition, said people familiar with the matter. The three couldn't be located for comment.
The hacked entities included the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose phone system was breached last August, according to a person familiar with the matter. A FEMA spokeswoman declined to comment.