US officials want to know why Islamists love Toyotas
US authorities have been in talks with Toyota to find out how and why Islamist militant groups across the Middle East are using fleets of brand new vehicles made by the Japanese company.
Toyota pickup trucks, in particular the Hilux and Land Cruiser brands, have long been a favourite of jihadist groups operating in rugged terrain from the hills of Afghanistan to the Syrian and Iraqi deserts.
The vehicles are often seen in jihadist propaganda videos, complete with high-calibre weapons bolted onto the truck beds.
According to a CNN report this week, the US Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, which monitors transfers and the flow of goods, officially asked Toyota how Islamic State group militants had got their hands on so many shiny new pickup trucks.
"We are committed to complying fully with the laws and regulations of each country or region where we operate, and require our dealers and distributors to do the same," the company responded in a statement.
"We are supporting the US Treasury Department’s broader inquiry into international supply chains and the flow of capital and goods in the Middle East."
Toyota, which added that it was cooperating with the Treasury’s investigation, insisted that it maintained "a strict policy not to sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities”.
But while there are procedures in place to stop the vehicles from falling into the wrong hands, the company said that it was impossible for it to control the channels through which its vehicles can be misappropriated, stolen or resold by third parties.
“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, in comments to ABC news. Wallace is the CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, an NGO that seeks to expose the financial support networks of terror groups.
The sales chain for Toyota vehicles finding their way into IS group hands is most likely through Iraq, thanks to as-yet-unidentified dealers, the country’s ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, told ABC news.
“This is a question we’ve been asking our neighbours,” Faily said. “How could these brand-new trucks ... these four-wheel drives, hundreds of them – where are they coming from?”
Toyota pickup trucks are favoured by Islamists for a number of reasons, not least for the fact that they are not American made.
Above all they have proved themselves to be solid and durable vehicles capable of taking the worst kind of punishment, as demonstrated in an episode of the BBC’s hit “Top Gear” series, which dedicated an entire episode in 2011 to stress testing a Hilux (see video below).
During the broadcast, Top Gear’s then presenter Jeremy Clarkson subjected a second-hand Hilux to collisions with walls and trees, left it on a beach to be swallowed by an aggressive incoming tide, smashed it with a wrecking ball and finally set it on fire. Nothing could stop the mechanics from getting it rolling again.