Islamic State used UK-based companies to buy weapons parts, says new report

David Rose
·3 min read
Soldiers wave IS flags in a military parade in Raqqa in June 2014 - Reuters 
Soldiers wave IS flags in a military parade in Raqqa in June 2014 - Reuters

The Islamic State group used companies in the UK to acquire weapons technology including parts for a jet-powered drone similar to the V-1 “flying bombs” dropped on London during the Second World War, a new report reveals.

The Conflict Armament Research (CAR) group, which studies weapons trafficking, said that Isil attempted to build the high-speed drones along with other “improvised weapons” when it established its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Isil used individuals and companies registered in Britain and Turkey to purchase a large stockpile of weapons and equipment as it occupied large swathes of territory from 2014, despite “red flags” that could have prevented the sales, the report said.  

The group's members used one UK-registered front company to buy turbine engines for advanced drones and ship them to a mobile phone company in Turkey. Another was used to buy parts for automatic anti-aircraft weapons, while others still used to import materials for bombs.

The report, released on Tuesday, said more than 50 companies in over 20 countries produced or distributed goods that ISIS forces subsequently used to make explosives, drones and improvised weapon systems.  

There is no suggestion that any of the companies or individuals identified or referenced in the report were complicit in supplying IS or otherwise committed any wrongdoing. 

Despite the suspicious nature of some of the transactions, bulk purchases made in 2014 and 2015 reportedly continued to fuel Isil's weapon production until the collapse of its caliphate and the killing of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October last year.  

"No other non-state armed group has matched the scale and ambition of IS weapons production," said Mike Lewis, CAR's head of enhanced investigations. “With stronger due diligence, much of this trade might have been disrupted.” 

The report suggested that if industry and law enforcement authorities had examined the unusual volume of transactions more thoroughly, “they may have been able to interrupt the conflict-sustaining quantities of materiel acquired by IS forces [in 2015].”

Siful Sujan, a high-ranking Isil official who was killed in a US drone strike in December 2015, was among those who used a network of technology companies based in Cardiff to buy and sell equipment that was shipped to a mobile phone shop and other companies in southern Turkey.

A network of family-owned Turkish companies, located close to border crossings into Isil-held territory, was also used to import goods, the report added.

Referring to the group’s use of drones, the report said that Isil had mainly used small, electrically powered models that were commercially available worldwide.

But the investigation found that from 2015 onwards, Isil technicians "also sought to develop larger, faster unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) powered by pulse jet engines".

A "fully constructed pulse jet engine" measuring more than two metres in length was found at a hospital formerly occupied by the terror group in west Mosul, Iraq, in September 2017.

"Pulse jets are a type of acoustic jet engine originally developed for World War II-era V-1 'flying bomb' cruise missiles," the report added, referring to the “vengeance weapon” deployed by Nazi Germany in 1944.

Approximately 2,400 V-1s landed within Greater London during the war, inflicting 6,000 fatalities and 18,000 serious injuries.

An automated anti-aircraft system was another of the "ambitious new weapons systems" IS made and tested but didn't use.

Despite the loss of its former territory, an estimated 10,000 Isil fighters remain at large in parts of Iraq and Syria, and the group has boasted of carrying out and inspiring hundreds of terror attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere in recent months.

Namir Shabibi, CAR's head of operations in Iraq, said "remaining cells in Iraq and Syria have become increasingly active in the past year".

"Preventing their procurement efforts by spotting the kinds of red flags detailed in this report remains important for countering the group's resurgence," he added.