Turkey, Britain bases for ISIS weapons supply chains, research group says

Small groups of individuals, families and companies in Turkey and Britain acted as conduits for goods and weapons acquired by Islamic State (ISIS) such as rocket and aerial drone components, the Conflict Armament Research group said in a report this week.

Purchases of bulk explosive precursors and electronic items through this network had unusual features, which made them potentially detectable, CAR said.

CAR said a UK-based company operated by an ISIS member bought high-specification motion-control units from a North American company. An unrelated luxury car-hire company in Istanbul executed the payment of more than $18,000 on behalf of the UK company, it said.

"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", a city in Turkey close to the Syrian border, CAR said.

Industry and law enforcement authorities in the countries failed to identify such groups and their activities or spot red flags, CAR said. If they had done so, they may have been able to interrupt the conflict-sustaining quantities of materials accessed by ISIS forces, it said.

“These connected purchasers and consignees were not fully visible to the international producers and suppliers of these goods,” the CAR said. “In most cases, they were only visible to national or regional distributors, one step down the supply chain.

“Importantly, the supply chains described were not reliant on territorial control or on capturing commercial goods or facilities,” the research group said.

In addition to private-sector due diligence, government customs and trade departments may have been able to detect anomalies in aggregate cross-border trade of commodities such as aluminium paste or sorbitol: particularly if exports or imports of several precursor chemicals spike simultaneously, CAR said.

"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."

ISIS 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, ISIS forces exploited relative anonymity in the latter, according to CAR.

“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,” CAR said.