US Of­fi­cials Ask How ISIS Got So Many Toy­ota Trucks

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Matthew Mosk ABC News

U.S. counter-terror of­fi­cials have asked Toy­ota, the world’s sec­ond largest auto maker, to help them de­ter­mine how ISIS has man­aged to ac­quire the large num­ber of Toy­ota pick-up trucks and SUVs seen promi­nently in the terror group’s pro­pa­ganda videos in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Toy­ota says it does not know how ISIS ob­tained the ve­hi­cles and is “sup­port­ing” the in­quiry led by the Terror Fi­nanc­ing unit of the Trea­sury Depart­ment -- part of a broad U.S. ef­fort to pre­vent Western­made goods from end­ing up in the hands of the terror group.

“We briefed Trea­sury on Toy­ota’s sup­ply chains in the Mid­dle East and the pro­ce­dures that Toy­ota has in place to pro­tect sup­ply chain in­tegrity,” said Ed Lewis, Toy­ota’s Washington-based di­rec­tor of public pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Toy­ota has a “strict pol­icy to not sell ve­hi­cles to po­ten­tial pur­chasers who may use or mod­ify them for paramil­i­tary or ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties,” Lewis said, adding it is im­pos­si­ble for the com­pany to track ve­hi­cles that have been stolen, or have been bought and re-sold.

Toy­ota Hilux pick­ups, an over­seas model sim­i­lar to the Toy­ota Ta­coma, and Toy­ota Land Cruis­ers have be­come fix­tures in videos of the ISIS cam­paign in Iraq, Syria and Libya, with their truck beds loaded with heavy weapons and cabs jammed with ter­ror­ists.

ISIS pro­pa­ganda videos show gun­men pa­trolling Syr­ian streets in what ap­pear to be older and newer model white Hilux pick-ups bear­ing the black caliphate seal and cross­ing Libya in long car­a­vans of gleam­ing tan Toy­ota Land Cruis­ers.

“Re­gret­tably, the Toy­ota Land Cruiser and Hilux have ef­fec­tively be­come al­most part of the ISIS brand,” said Mark Wal­lace, a for­mer U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, who is CEO of the Counter Ex­trem­ism Pro­ject, a non-profit work­ing to ex­pose the fi­nan­cial sup­port net­works of terror groups.

“ISIS has used these ve­hi­cles in or­der to en­gage in mil­i­tary-type ac­tiv­i­ties, terror ac­tiv­i­ties, and the like,” Wal­lace told ABC News. “But in nearly ev­ery ISIS video, they show a fleet -- a con­voy of Toy­ota ve­hi­cles and that’s very con­cern­ing to us.”

Toy­ota says many of the ve­hi­cles seen in ISIS videos are not re­cent mod­els. “We have pro­ce­dures in place to help en­sure our prod­ucts are not di­verted for unau­tho­rized mil­i­tary use,” said Lewis, the Toy­ota ex­ec­u­tive.

Ques­tions about the ISIS use of Toy­ota ve­hi­cles have cir­cu­lated for years. In 2014, a re­port by the ra­dio broad­caster Public Ra­dio In­ter­na­tional noted that the U.S. State Depart­ment de­liv­ered 43 Toy­ota trucks to Syr­ian rebels. A more re­cent re­port in an Aus­tralian news­pa­per said that more than 800 of the trucks had been re­ported miss­ing in Syd­ney be­tween 2014 and 2015, and quoted terror ex­perts spec­u­lat­ing that they may have been ex­ported to ISIS ter­ri­tory.

At­tempts to track the path of the trucks into ISIS hands has proven com­pli­cated for U.S. and Iraqi of­fi­cials.

Toy­ota’s own fig­ures show sales of Hilux and Land Cruis­ers tripling from 6,000 sold in Iraq in 2011 to 18,000 sold in 2013, be­fore sales dropped back to 13,000 in 2014.

Bri­gadier Gen­eral Saad Maan, an Iraqi mil­i­tary spokesman, told ABC News he sus­pects that mid­dle­men from out­side Iraq have been smug­gling the trucks into his coun­try. “We are spend­ing our time to fight those ter­ror­ists so we can­not say we are con­trol­ling the bor­der be­tween Iraq and Syria,” he con­ceded. “We are deeply in need for an­swers.”

In a state­ment to ABC News, Toy­ota said it is not aware of any deal­er­ship selling to the terror group but “would im­me­di­ately” take ac­tion if it did, in­clud­ing ter­mi­na­tion of the dis­tri­bu­tion agree­ment.

Su­mit­omo, a Ja­panese con­glom­er­ate that ships ve­hi­cles to the re­gion, wrote to ABC News, “In terms of how any­one op­er­at­ing out­side of the law ob­tain ve­hi­cles for mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion, we have no way to know and there­fore can­not com­ment.”

A spokesman for for­mer own­ers of the Toy­ota deal­er­ship in Syria said its sales op­er­a­tion was halted in 2012. The for­mer own­ers, a Saudi com­pany called Ab­dul Latif Jameel, said it “made the de­ci­sion to cease all trad­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the coun­try and fully di­vested the busi­ness in Oc­to­ber, 2012,” ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son.

Wal­lace, of the Counter Ex­trem­ism Pro­ject, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion wrote di­rectly to Toy­ota ear­lier this year to urge the com­pany to do more to track the flow of trucks to ISIS, and noted that the trucks are stamped with trace­able iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers.

“I don’t think Toy­ota’s try­ing to in­ten­tion­ally profit from it, but they are on no­tice now and they should do more,” Wal­lace said. “They should be able to fig­ure it out . . . how these trucks are get­ting there. I think they should dis­close that, put a stop to that, and put poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in places that are real and ef­fec­tive to make sure that we don’t see videos of ISIS us­ing Toy­ota trucks in the fu­ture.”

Ear­lier this year, Toy­ota re­sponded to Wal­lace’s or­ga­ni­za­tion with sim­i­lar lan­guage the com­pany has used to an­swer ques­tions from ABC News, writ­ing that Toy­ota stopped en­tirely its sales of ve­hi­cles in Syria sev­eral years ago.

ISIS mil­i­tants race through Raqqa in a pro­pa­ganda

train­ing film re­leased online in Septem­ber 2014.

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