These Toyota trucks are popular with terrorists - here's why
Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, told ABC that in recent years, as ISIS has risen to prominence in Iraq and Syria, the terror group has acquired hundreds of new Toyota pickup trucks.
"This is a question we've been asking our neighbors," Faily told ABC. "How could these brand-new trucks ... these four-wheel drives, hundreds of them - where are they coming from?"
But ISIS - also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh - is far from the first terror group to favor the automaker's tough trucks.
As Ravi Somaiya pointed out in Newsweek in 2010, the Toyota Hilux pickup has been a fixture of several extremist movements over the past few decades.
"The Toyota Hilux is everywhere," Andrew Exum, a former US Army Ranger who is now the US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, told Newsweek. "It's the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It's ubiquitous to insurgent warfare. And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee."
The Hilux is apparently a durable truck that has proven useful for terrorists' lightly armed special forces.
The truck is "fast, maneuverable, and packs a big punch [when it's mounted with] a 50-caliber [machine gun] that easily defeats body armor on soldiers and penetrates lightly armored vehicles as well," Alastair Finlan, who specializes in strategic studies at Aberystwyth University in the UK, told Newsweek.
Hiluxes also stand up to more than just normal vehicular wear and tear. In 2006, British TV show "Top Gear" conducted an experiment that illustrated this.
"The show's producers bought an 18-year-old Hilux diesel with 190,000 miles on the odometer for $1,500," Somaiya wrote for Newsweek. "They then crashed it into a tree, submerged it in the ocean for five hours, dropped it from about 10 feet, tried to crush it under an RV, drove it through a portable building, hit it with a wrecking ball, and set it on fire.
"Finally, they placed it on top of a 240-foot tower block that was then destroyed in a controlled demolition. When they dug it out of the rubble, all it took to get it running again was hammers, wrenches, and WD-40. They didn't even need spare parts."
The truck is so popular with militants that it has been closely associated with them for decades.
"Anecdotally, a scan of pictures from the last four decades of guerrilla and insurgent warfare around the world - the first iteration of the Hilux appeared in the late '60s - reveals the Toyota's wide-ranging influence," Somaiya wrote for Newsweek.
"Somali pirates bristling with guns hang out of them on the streets of Mogadishu," The New York Times reported in 2009, noting that the Hilux is the pirates' "ride of choice." "A ragtag bunch of 20 or so Sudanese fighters raise their arms aloft in the back of a Hilux in 2004. Pakistani militants drive through a crowd, guns high, in 2000. It goes on. Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq - US Special Forces even drive Toyota Tacomas (the chunkier, US version of the Hilux) on some of their deployments."
The Hilux is a Toyota truck model sold overseas that's similar to the Tacoma, ABC explains.
The trucks "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," according to ABC.
ISIS militants use new Hilux models and older versions in their videos. Toyota Land Cruisers have also made appearances in ISIS propaganda.
Ed Lewis, Toyota's Washington-based director of public policy and communications, told ABC that Toyota has "briefed Treasury on Toyota's supply chains in the Middle East and the procedures that Toyota has in place to protect supply chain integrity" and that the company has a "strict policy to not sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities."
Some of the Toyotas now in ISIS's possession have been rebranded with the seal of the "caliphate," or the Islamic State the group has created as it has seized control of territory in the Middle East.
The Hilux is so popular with ISIS fighters that it has now become "almost part of the ISIS brand," Mark Wallace, a former US ambassador to the United Nations who is CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, told ABC.
"In nearly every ISIS video, they show a fleet - a convoy of Toyota vehicles and that's very concerning to us," Wallace said.
ISIS's propaganda has been so effective that "Saturday Night Live" parodied the relationship between Toyota and ISIS earlier this year:
The start of the skit is similar to a Toyota commercial that shows a father driving his daughter, who has joined the military after high school, to the airport in a Camry.
In the "SNL" version, when the daughter gets out of her dad's Camry, she runs over to a Toyota SUV packed with militants:
As for how terrorists in the Middle East get their hands on Toyota trucks, the company has said it's impossible to track the vehicles.
Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, an Iraqi military spokesman, told ABC that the Hiluxes likely come from middlemen who smuggle the trucks into the country.