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01 Apr 2017

One man's journey from anarchist bitcoin coder to anti-ISIS rebel

From bitcoin entrepreneur to anti-ISIS fighter in Syria

In 2015, Amir Taaki, an Iranian-British coder notorious in the politically-loaded cryptography software and bitcoin, found himself holding an AK-47 in Syria fighting ISIS alongside Kurdish rebels.

Taaki had for years preached a crypto-anarchist revolution online. But then he found there was a very real revolution occurring in Syria.

In this timeline, we explore how Taaki went from coding bitcoins to firing bullets.

In context

From bitcoin entrepreneur to anti-ISIS fighter in Syria


Who is Amir Taaki?

Taaki is a self-educated software engineer who has been a well-known and controversial personality in the bitcoin community.

He developed Libbitcoin, a complete rewrite of bitcoin's core code in 2011.

He also created a prototype for a decentralized Silk Road-like darknet market which could be untapped by security forces.

Taaki was a wandering activist who dreamed of using bitcoin to defy authority.

Taaki disappeared after leading untraceable bitcoin trading tool's development

In 2014, Taaki was leading the creation of Dark Wallet, a much anticipated software capable of allowing untraceable bitcoin trade. After releasing a beta version, Dark Wallet's development stopped without explanation, prompting netizens to wonder on Reddit, "Is Amir Taaki still alive?"

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Off to Syria

Where did Taaki go?

In late 2014, Taaki had read about the YPG Kurdish militant group and how they created a society built on principles of local direct democracy, collectivist anarchy, and equality for women.

Such a society was built in the autonomous Rojava region, home to over 4 million people, in northern Syria.

Taaki called Rojova's revolution "one of the biggest things to happen in anarchist history."

Why he left?

Rojava's citizens put into practice the ideals Taaki believed in

Taaki decided to go there after ISIS invaded Kobani, a part of Rojava and massacred over a hundred men, women and children.

Taaki hoped he could impart his technical know-how for the revolution.

"My fellow anarchists were fighting the most disgusting type of Islamic fascism, and it was my duty to help them," he said.

Fortunes change

A Kurdish officer who managed foreign recruits and knew Taaki spotted him and recalled his technical background. The officer had him driven away from the front towards the capital Qamshili to be useful in work befitting his expertise.

His work

Taaki authored women's magazine, helped in solar-panel research project

Taaki then joined the region's Economics Committee. He started learning Kurdish and trained locals to use open source software.

He assisted in the building of a fertilization production factory and worked on a solar-panel research project.

He also authored a guide for foreigners trying to learn Kurdish and authored a revolutionary magazine for young women.

British police arrest Taaki after he returns to London


British police arrest Taaki after he returns to London

Taaki decided to return home to London hoping to restart work on Dark Wallet to help Rojovan Kurds use it as a bitcoin fundraising tools.

However, he was arrested the moment he landed in London. His phones and laptops were seized and he was interrogated about the Kurds, bitcoin and ISIS.

He was then under house arrest and has remained under investigation.

Why was he arrested?

Police didn't comment on the investigation but said "supporting, joining, or being a member of any proscribed terrorist organization is an offense under the Terrorism Act 2000, and the police will investigate allegations relating to any person suspected of committing such offenses."

Uncertain future

British authorities place Taaki in legal limbo

Over 10 months since his return, Taaki still hasn't received his confiscated passport.

Taaki said he's unsure about taking up new software projects and fears that working on Dark Wallet might send him to jail.

Taaki's lawyer says his actions abroad to defend Kurds is legal under domestic and international law.

However, Turkey considers the PKK Kurdish group a terrorist organization, complicating his situation.

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