A recent study has provided key information about how the Islamic State (ISIS) obtained its weapons. The terrorist group was able to conduct an international arms procurement network through which it supplied itself with a deadly armament.

How Did ISIS Arm Itself?

ISIS systematically built up an international network of suppliers and technicians which enabled it to fall back on an extensive arsenal of weapons. This conclusion emerged from a recently published study by the London research institute Conflict Armament Research.

With numerous powerful weapons at its disposal, ISIS continuously expanded its territory in Iraq and Syria, especially from 2014 onwards, before it gradually declined via under an onslaught from a Western coalition.

According to the study, the Turkish-Syrian border area was central to the ISIS supply route. Under mostly false identities, ISIS members contacted companies in the region and ordered the components they needed for weapons or explosives.

The sophistication of its middlemen, who consistently hid their identity, played a significant role in ISIS’s ability to maintain its procurement network for several years.

How Did ISIS Pay?

Payments were mainly made with cash transfers done by internationally established providers. Some of the transfers were made in other regions of the world than those in which the order was placed. The researchers of Conflict Armament Research followed the corresponding traces of cash transfer payments as far as Asia.

Although some of the weapons can also be traced back to stocks left behind by the Iraqi and Syrian armies, the study indicates that a large part of the weapons and war equipment does not originate from the Gulf region, as is generally assumed.

During their research, the institute was guided by a whole range of possible clues. As these indicators accumulated the likelihood that it was illegal procurement increased.

The most important indicators included, for example, the appearance of a previously unknown customer whose company is located in a sensitive region of the Turkish-Syrian border area. There are also various orders that do not relate to a company’s primary business and payment of invoices not by the customer, but by a third party. Other keys include wire transfer methods used to hide the identity of the person making the transfer and unusual routes for delivering the weaponry.

The Role of Turkish Supply Routes

It is also noticeable that ISIS maintained its procurement network on Turkish soil for several years. When ISIS came into existence, Ankara was initially just as surprised by its dynamism as other states. However, since the group did not attack Turkish targets, the government pretty much let the jihadists have their way.

Turkey did not see ISIS as its enemy at the time. In addition, ISIS fought against the Kurds, which the government in Ankara is also fighting. That, too, was a reason to let ISIS do what it wanted. This attitude only changed around 2015, when ISIS became more and more aggressive and assertive in the region.

Today’s Reality

Today the network has mostly been broken. ISIS continues to try to procure weapons, but information from the Iraqi government indicates that the organization only has light weapons and no medium or heavy weapons for significant use in the field. It is widely believed that ISIS has lost most of its network and financial resources around the world.

The international coalition to fight ISIS, as well as the actions taken by many governments to fight terrorism, have resulted in financial flows being strictly controlled. The movement patterns of potential jihadists are also closely followed, with the result being that ISIS operations have declined significantly worldwide.

Although rudimentary supply networks still exist in some places such as certain areas of Iraq, the dismantling of infrastructure over the past few years and destruction of ISIS territory has left the terrorists with no advanced weaponry or access to weapons of mass destruction.