HOW did the Toyota pickup become terrorists’ favourite truck? This is the question the United States of America is asking as it investigates whether there is a possible link between the Japanese vehicle manufacturers, Toyota, and terrorists worldwide.
What was said to have raised eyebrows was the fact that the Japan-only Land Cruiser 70 is typically the model used by ISIS.
Apart from this brand, the shiny white Toyota SUVs, Land Cruiser and Hilux brands have effectively become almost part of the ISIS, Al Queda, the Taliban and even the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria.
Propaganda videos, known mainly for their shocking and gory content, feature essentially Toyota trucks and SUVs, prompting the US Treasury Department to raise queries why terrorists in different parts of the world patronise the brands of the Japanese auto maker.
The National Daily learnt that the US Treasury Department had become curious about the popularity of the Toyota brands as utility vehicles of terrorists worldwide as most video produced by them always feature the vehicles manufactured by the Japanese.
“Regrettably, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux have effectively become almost part of the ISIS brand,” Mark Wallace, a former United Nations ambassador and the current head of anti-terrorism non-profit group, is quoted to have said.
Corroborating this position, Lukman Failey, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, told ABC News that Iraq believes ISIS has acquired hundreds of brand-new Toyota vehicles in recent yearsfrom no clear source.
Toyota, the world’s second largest auto maker, is reputed to produce brands that are popular worldwide especially in countries where there are difficult terrains especially the deserts where most of these terrorists are based.
Toyota is said to have responded to the US government enquiries, saying it does not understand how its products get into terrorists’ hands as it does not sell directly to customers who likely modify them for terrorists’ activities.
Apart from terrorists, shiny white Toyota SUVs are the preferred vehicles of humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross and the United Nationsthe latter group Toyota supplied with 150,000 vehicles over the last four decades. That makes the brand a visible mainstay in developing countries, and its vehicles ripe for the plucking by terrorists who might steal them, buy them through unlicensed sellers, or find them through other channels.
While exonerating itself of any illegal link with any terrorist group anywhere in the world Toyota referred to a development whereby the US State Department sent dozens of Toyota pick-ups to Syrian rebels last year, as part of an effort to equip the rebels with non-lethal aid.
An advisor to the Syrian National Coalition said the Toyota Hilux was an important force multiplier specifically requested by the Free Syrian Army.
Tony Faria, an auto industry expert at the University of Windsor, while speaking on the issue says: “Of course, Toyota builds good vehicles. But the trucks of the Detroit 3 comprising General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, are outstanding in terms of hauling and towing capacity, much better than the Toyotas,” he says.
ISIL isn’t the first rebel political group to co-opt Toyotas. The vehicles have also been used in unorthodox ways by the Taliban.
Like the Taliban, Osama bin Ladin’s terrorist organisation opted for durability over discretionchoosing the Toyota Hilux (a truck unavailable in the US market) as its vehicle of choice.
A counter insurgency expert had said in 2010 that in Afghanistan, the trucks are incredibly well respected and so well-branded by the terrorist group; that coming across one is a bit of a sign you’re dealing with Al Qaeda.
The company, which insists it doesn’t sell vehicles to purchasers who might modify them for terrorist activities, is now supporting a US Treasury Department investigation into how these vehicles are ending up in ISIL’s hands.
Toyota argues its products especially the pick-ups are popular for their indestructible reputation and therefore it is not surprising that they have become a curious icon of terrorists beginning with the Taliban force in the 1990s.
Those (the 1990s) were the years of intense fighting between Chad and Libya over a series of political disputes in the region. Toyotas were so ubiquitously used as technicals that the conflict was literally dubbed “The Toyota War.”
Whether the unintended product placement from all these rebel groups is a boon or detriment to Toyota is something the company has kept private. ISIL and Japan, where Toyota is headquartered, are certainly not on good terms.
In the same vein the New York Times had referred to the vehicles as ideal platforms for intimidation and enforcement.
Toyota, discomfited by the association, issued a statement saying the company “does not have a sales or distribution channel in Afghanistan, and we do not export vehicles to that country.”
“It is impossible for any automaker to control indirect or illegal channels through which our vehicles could be misappropriated, stolen or resold,” Toyota explained in its statement.
Various theories are being worked upon to get a clue in resolving the riddle.
For instance, ISIS could be getting its hands on the Toyota vehicles through their sympathizers who purchase them and shipped to the terrorist group directly.
Another theory says that ISIS is stealing the vehicles from various sources (such as Syrian rebels) and smuggling them in. (5)