On December 8th, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) released its report titled “Procurement Networks Behind Islamic State Improvised Weapon Programmes.”
CAR is a UK-based investigative organization that tracks the supply of conventional weapons, ammunition, and related military materiel (such as IEDs) into conflict-affected areas.
This most recent report looks into the human and financial networks behind the global procurement of goods and technologies for Islamic State weapons production. Shows how Islamic State procurers concealed their efforts behind front companies, pseudonymous communications and proxy purchasers.
This was the result of an 18-month investigation and a subsequent attempt to map these same networks.
In short, more than 50 companies, in over 20 countries, produced or distributed goods that ISIS forces subsequently used to make IEDs, drones and improvised weapon systems.
NEW from CAR: "Procurement networks behind Islamic State improvised weapon programmes." Read the report here – https://t.co/Sbw6q23yx7
— CAR (@conflictarm) December 8, 2020
The entire report can be read for free at this link: [pdf]
The report’s key findings are as follows:
- Until their territorial defeat, ISIS forces’ weapon production programmes in Iraq and Syria procured key commodities through groups of linked, family-owned companies and individuals located near key border crossings into IS-held territory. These groups were centered around the towns of Siverek and Akçakale in southern Turkey.
- These family groupings helped to procure multiple commodities – often unrelated to their primary businesses – and in some cases arranged their movement into Syria. There is no evidence that they were witting accomplices to IS procurement efforts or were guilty of any wrongdoing. They nonetheless acted as key junction points within the supply chains that provisioned IS forces: consolidating shipments of multiple commodities for onward distribution. Such groupings therefore constituted choke points in IS forces’ supply chains: points en route potentially vulnerable to law enforcement disruption.
- Purchases of bulk explosive precursors and electronic items through this network had unusual features, which made them potentially detectable. ‘Red flags’ included the following:
- companies made large purchases of products that were incongruent with their business activities. For example, a small mobile phone shop purchased six tonnes of aluminium paste from a large chemical distributor.
- parties ostensibly unconnected with the purchaser paid for products, or had products consigned to them. For example, a fertiliser dealer, together with an associate, paid nearly USD 200,000 for a consignment of 78 tonnes of a food additive (sorbitol) that was shipped to two Syrian companies via IS-held territory. Similarly, a UK-based company operated by an IS member purchased high-specification motion-control units from a North American company, but an unrelated luxury car-hire company in Istanbul executed the payment of more than USD 18,000 on behalf of the UK company. The same UK company purchased rocket and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) components from companies in North America and Germany but asked the sellers to ship them to the address of a mobile phone shop in Şanlıurfa, close to the Turkish– Syrian border.
- ISIS forces’ procurers also sought goods and intangible knowledge to develop new, ambitious improvised weapon systems. Their efforts included purchasing technical plans for a pulsejet engine with the intention of developing large, high-speed UAVs; and contracting suppliers for an automated anti-aircraft system.
So, according to the findings, usually small family-run businesses actually supplied ISIS with weapons and equipment, and even materials for an anti-aircraft system, and they never even suspected they were providing weapons to terrorists.
They were likely thinking they were supplying a private business or just a homeowner who wanted to redecorate.
The investigation that led to the report was a result of the CAR team tracking and documenting illicit weapons, ammunition, and related materiel in conflict-affected locations and trace their supply sources.
A recovered ISIS document also showed that the extremist group’s operatives “coordinated with established cross-border smugglers, who paid local Turkish officials to allow the passage of goods across the Akcakale border gate.”
But the CAR emphasised it has no evidence that the companies involved were “witting accomplices” to ISIS procurement efforts or guilty of any wrongdoing.
“They nonetheless acted as key junction points within the supply chains that provisioned ISIS forces,” it said.
It said that purchases of bulk explosive precursors and electronic items through this network had unusual features that should have raised “red flags.”
Companies made large purchases of products that were “incongruent” with their business activities, it said, pointing to how a small mobile phone shop purchased six tonnes of aluminium paste from a large chemical distributor.
The report also features a useful table that shows “Red flags in supply chains” that were detailed in the report.
The report, in conclusion, aims not to blame manufacturers or distributors, because there is apparently no way for them to track what their weapons or equipment is used for, before it reaches the hands of terrorists.
“However, the examples in this report demonstrate that IS procurers relied not only on local interpersonal networks. They also used global business platforms for e-commerce and recruitment. While interpersonal trust might be important in the former, IS forces exploited relative anonymity in the latter. Whenever possible, IS procurers made payments in small amounts via PayPal or international money transfer. They used pseudonymous email addresses and messaging handles to communicate with potential suppliers and contractors, who may have been used to working with international clients and relying on email and messaging apps as the primary forms of communication. Some online contracting platforms do not validate buyers or sellers, or necessarily vet job posts, even if they involve military applications. Moreover, in the case of Advance Technology Global Ltd, IS procurers were able to engage with suppliers using a UK front company registered using the names of fictitious directors and shareholders, whose identities the UK company register did not verify.”
Basically, e-business makes it exquisitely easy to actually order and procure weapons and military equipment, with little to none issue that ends up in war zone, with the knowing (or unknowing) assistance of small family-run businesses.
The supply chains described in the report were not reliant on territorial control or on capturing commercial goods or facilities. Although IS forces may no longer hold territory, remaining IS cells in Iraq and Syria became increasingly active in 2020 (ACLED, 2020). Disrupting their procurement efforts by spotting transactional red flags will therefore remain an important tool against the resurgence of IS forces and their successors.
This is no secret, as the COVID-19 pandemic has likely loosened control on many fronts, at the same time the necessity to profit is an universal one and was only made more severe by the fact that for parts of this year people needed to sit isolated, and that even impacted “war-making”.
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