U.S. Government Wants to Know: Why Does ISIS Only Drive Toyotas?

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Militant Islamist fighters wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Raqqa
Photo: STRINGER/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

The Treasury Department’s Terror Financing Unit has launched an inquiry into why the Toyota Hilux is the ISIS jihad ride of choice. “Regrettably, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux have effectively become almost part of the ISIS brand,” Mark Wallace, CEO of the Counter Extremism Project and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told ABC News. Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily asked the question: “Where are they coming from?”

This is not a social-media-savvy product placement that Toyota is looking for with this year’s “Let’s go places” campaign.

To be fair, this isn’t new to ISIS. The Toyota truck has been the easy-to-obtain, harder-to-destroy truck of choice for paramilitary ventures since the 1980s. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, Libyans, Chadians, the Free Syrian Army, U.S. Special Forces, and the Islamic State all share in common their preference for the Japanese-made vehicle, known as “the technical.” They can be smashed, plunked into the ocean, buried in sand, shot at, burned, and still start dependably. (You can pick your armor-plated model here).

As ABC News reported, recent video of what looks like an ISIS parade reveals an armada of shiny, new Hiluxes in the barren caliphate. Potentially disturbing, yes. But since an entire yearlong clash between Chad and Libya was dubbed the “Toyota War,” it’s not that surprising.

As former Army Ranger Andrew Exum told Newsweek in 2010, “The Toyota Hilux is everywhere. It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare.” A New York Times report from 2001 triangulated that analogy with the Al Qaeda grunts addicted to the trucks. As the old Toyota ads used to go: “Oh, what a feeling!”

Some features of the Hilux to note: When conducting guerrilla-style warfare in hostile desert climes, a solid wheelbase and “stout” chassis are foundational requirements. Yet, something light and fast needs to be able to fit a small army, and loot. Thankfully, there’s a king cab option with extended bed in Nebula Blue. Patrolling a caliphate the size of Belgium? A 21-gallon fuel tank will get you over to the next village you plan to seize.

Dr. Alastair Finlan, a professor of strategic studies at Aberystwyth University, tells Daily Intelligencer, “Iraq’s borders are very porous, so shipping them [the trucks] into ISIS-controlled territory would not be too difficult.” There are numerous Toyota dealerships throughout the region in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the various Gulf States. He added, “It’s not too far fetched to imagine that enterprising business people could ship these vehicles to Iraq for nefarious purposes.”

Other experts have intimated that a similar process may be taking place in Australia. Speaking to the Daily Mail, Professor Greg Barton, of the Middle East Institute, thinks the trucks are being exported out of Sydney and into Syria on the Islamic State’s behalf.