The consistent recurrence of Toyota trucks in promotional materials released by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, aka ISIS, has captured the attention of federal investigators.
The jihadist group has released numerous recruiting videos showing militants proudly parading, patrolling and fighting in fleets of new and old Toyota Hilux pickups and Land Cruiser SUVs.
“How could these brand new trucks… these four wheel drives, hundreds of them — where are they coming from?” asked the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, in an interview with ABC News. “This is a question we’ve been asking our neighbors.”
Toyota claims to have procedures in place to prevent its vehicles from getting into the hands of unauthorized military groups, however the company cautions that it is impossible to completely control “indirect or illegal channels” that appear to be circumventing the protections.
Most of the vehicles obtained by ISIS were presumably acquired through middlemen via straw purchases. Buyers can simply purchase using a false pretext, then illegally divert the vehicles to ISIS. An Iraqi military official believes many of the Toyota trucks are being smuggled in from neighboring countries, though Hilux and Land Cruiser sales within Iraq tripled between 2011 and 2013.
Rebel groups’ affinity for the Toyota Hilux is well documented and predates ISIS. A report from Newsweek‘s archives suggests the pickup has been a top choice for Somali pirates, Sudanese fighters, Pakistani militants and other groups in war-torn regions spanning the globe.
Exemplifying the bond between jihadists and the Tacoma-sized Hilux, the Newsweek story claims rebels in the War in Afghanistan began receiving red maple leaf tattoos. Puzzled investigators eventually traced the trend to a shipment of Hilux pickups that originated from the Canadian government and arrived as the market had been flooded with knockoffs.
“It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare,” explained then-analyst Andrew Exum, now Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy. “And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee.”
Some experts may be less worried about the Hilux as ISIS continues to expand its fleet of captured US military vehicles and weaponry. Pentagon officials earlier this year admitted that the militant group secured more than 100 vehicles, including M1A1 Abrams tanks, as Iraqi Security Forces retreated from Ramadi.