ISIS driving Toyotas a little too often, US Treasury wonders why
Toyota has issued a statement to explain that this is part of a wider probe into terrorist supply chains and capital flow, according to ABC. The company also says it does not know how its trucks ended up in ISIS hands in such a quantity, and is “supporting” the inquiry.
The model most popular with Islamic State drivers seems to be the Hilux, similar to Tacomas and Land Cruisers. This overseas version is a mainstay in ISIS propaganda videos, often loaded to the brim with heavy weapons.
The company says the cars in the videos aren’t recent models, but ABC spoke to the Iraqi ambassador to the US, Lukman Faily, who said that in addition to re-purposing old vehicles, the terrorist group has been acquiring “hundreds” of “brand new” ones in recent years.
“This is a question we’ve been asking our neighbors,” the ambassador said. “How could these brand new trucks… these four-wheel drives, hundreds of them – where are they coming from?”
Some of the other cars paraded in victory parade videos include Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Isuzu.
“Regrettably, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux have effectively become almost part of the ISIS brand,” said Mark Wallace, a former US ambassador to the United Nations. Wallace is CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, a group specializing in tracking terrorist finance channels.
“ISIS has used these vehicles in order to engage in military-type activities, terror activities, and the like,” he said. “But in nearly every ISIS video, they show a fleet – a convoy of Toyota vehicles and that’s very concerning to us.”
But according to Lewis, “It is impossible for Toyota to completely control indirect or illegal channels through which our vehicles could be misappropriated.”
The current inquiry isn’t the first time somebody’s asked about Toyota popping up frequently in IS hands. A report last year by Public Radio International exposed a delivery by the US State Department of 43 Toyota trucks to Syrian rebels – the “moderate” ones, as has been the Western line since the start of the Syrian war in 2011. Australian media has also this year been circulating reports of some 800 vehicles stolen, and authorities believing they may have been shipped to war zones in the Middle East.
The Hilux, a pickup truck Toyota has built since the late 1960s, isn’t available in the US, but it’s popular around the globe, including with insurgent groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
Recently, when the US State Department resumed sending non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels, the delivery list included 43 Toyota trucks.
Hiluxes were on the Free Syrian Army’s wish list. Oubai Shahbander, a Washington-based advisor to the Syrian National Coalition, is a fan of the truck.
“Specific equipment like the Toyota Hiluxes are what we refer to as force enablers for the moderate opposition forces on the ground,” he adds. Shahbander says the US-supplied pickups will be delivering troops and supplies into battle. Some of the fleet will even become battlefield weapons.
“You can absolutely expect for many of those trucks to be mounted with crew-served machine guns or other type of equipment, military equipment, that the opposition forces have access to. I mean, that’s one of the reasons why the Toyota Hilux is such an important force multiplier, because it could be used both for humanitarian purposes and for operational purposes as well.”
Syria is only the latest war zone where the Hilux has been a vehicle of choice. The BBC’s Kabul correspondent, David Loyn, saw the Hilux put through its paces by the Taliban in the 1990s, and credits the truck with having given Taliban forces a battlefield edge.