Investigators find Islamic State used ammo made in 21 countries, including America

Julia Harte
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Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, alternatively known as Abu Ala al-Afri, was a senior Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) official who reintegrated himself into ISIL following his release from prison in early 2012 and traveled to Syria to work in a Syria-based ISIL network. Al-Qaduli joined al-Qaida in 2004 under the command of now deceased al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and served as al-Zarqawiâs deputy and the AQI amir (leader) of Mosul, Ninawa Province, Iraq. (Rewards for Justice/US State Department)

Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli

Correction, Oct. 6, 2014: An earlier version of this story reported that IS fighters used oxy-acetylene torches to obscure serial numbers on weapons. According to the Conflict Armament Research report, "unidentified parties" removed the original serial numbers.

An independent arms monitoring group has collected evidence that fighters in the Middle Eastern extremist group known as the Islamic State, labeled a “network of death” by President Obama, are using weapons and ammunition manufactured in at least 21 different countries, including China, Russia, and the United States.

Related: Who made Islamic State ammo recovered in Iraq

The group’s report, released Oct. 6, indicates that the Islamic State’s relatively newly-formed force has had little difficulty tapping into the huge pool of armaments fueling the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, supplied not only by the world’s big powers but also by up-and-coming exporters such as Sudan.

Much of the Islamic State arms and ammunition were captured on the battlefield, but intelligence reports have suggested that the group’s income from oil sales and other sources is high enough to finance purchases of additional weapons directly from the companies and dealers that routinely profit from strife in the Middle East.

Related: Who made Islamic State ammo recovered in Syria

Experts say the fact that the armaments have such disparate sources — some were even made at a major U.S. munitions plant in Missouri — provides a cautionary note as Washington prepares to undertake expanded shipments of military supplies, including small arms, to rebel groups in Syria and to a revived Iraqi Army force.

“We faced an enormous [monitoring] challenge when we, in effect, owned Iraq and had many bases where we could do this type of training,“ said Joseph Christoff, who directed international affairs and trade issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office between 2000 and 2011, when the GAO repeatedly identified shortcomings in controlling the use of U.S. weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Related: Lake City Army Ammunition Plant

“I don’t know how we’re going to do it securely in this new program” meant to arm Western-allied rebel forces in Syria, Christoff said.

The new data were collected by a three-year-old, London-based group called Conflict Armament Research, which sends investigators into conflict zones to identify the types and origins of weaponry used in the fighting. Its latest report, financed by the European Union, lists the origins of more than 1700 cartridges collected last July and August in northern Iraq and northern Syria by investigators working alongside Kurdish forces that had fought the forces of the Islamic State, generally known as ISIS or ISIL.

Related: U.S. now faces threat of U.S.-made weapons in Iraq

The cartridges they found after four battles were manufactured for machine and submachine guns, rifles and pistols. One Soviet-manufactured cartridge dated from 1945, a grim testament to how the production of such weaponry can impact many generations hence. 

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Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.