U.S. counter-terror officials have asked Toyota, the world's second largest auto maker, to help them determine how ISIS has managed to acquire the large number of Toyota pick-up trucks and SUVs seen prominently in the terror group's propaganda videos in Iraq, Syria and Libya, ABC News has learned.
Toyota says it does not know how ISIS obtained the vehicles and is “supporting" the inquiry led by the Terror Financing unit of the Treasury Department -- part of a broad U.S. effort to prevent Western-made goods from ending up in the hands of the terror group.
“We briefed Treasury on Toyota's supply chains in the Middle East and the procedures that Toyota has in place to protect supply chain integrity," said Ed Lewis, Toyota's Washington-based director of public policy and communications.
Toyota has a “strict policy to not sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities," Lewis said. He said it is impossible for the company to track vehicles that have been stolen, or have been bought and re-sold by middlemen.
Toyota Hilux pickups, an overseas model similar to the Toyota Tacoma, and Toyota Land Cruisers 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. The Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, told ABC News that in addition to re-purposing older trucks, his government believes ISIS has acquired “hundreds" of “brand new" Toyotas in recent years.
“This is a question we've been asking our neighbors," Faily said. “How could these brand new trucks... these four wheel drives, hundreds of them -- where are they coming from?"
ISIS propaganda videos show gunmen patrolling Syrian streets in what appear to be older and newer model white Hilux pick-ups bearing the black caliphate seal and crossing Libya in long caravans of gleaming tan Toyota Land Cruisers. When ISIS soldiers paraded through the center of Raqqa, more than two-thirds of the vehicles were the familiar white Toyotas with the black emblems. There were small numbers of other brands including Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Isuzu.
“Regrettably, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux have effectively become almost part of the ISIS brand," said Mark Wallace, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who is CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit working to expose the financial support networks of terror groups.
Toyota says many of the vehicles seen in ISIS videos are not recent models. “We have procedures in place to help ensure our products are not diverted for unauthorized military use," said Lewis, the Toyota executive.
But, Lewis added, “It is impossible for Toyota to completely control indirect or illegal channels through which our vehicles could be misappropriated."
Questions about the ISIS use of Toyota vehicles have circulated for years. In 2014, a report by the radio broadcaster Public Radio International noted that the U.S. State Department delivered 43 Toyota trucks to Syrian rebels. A more recent report in an Australian newspaper said that more than 800 of the trucks had been reported missing in Sydney between 2014 and 2015, and quoted terror experts speculating that they may have been exported to ISIS territory.
Attempts to track the path of the trucks into ISIS hands has proven complicated for U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Treasury officials told ABC News they could not comment publicly about the agency's engagement with specific private companies. But in response to questions about Toyota, the officials said investigators are “working closely with foreign counterparts and stakeholders" on the issue.