ISIS’s Dangerous Weapons Arsenal: Exposed

CEP Research Analyst


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ISIS shootings, suicide bombings, and mass beheadings are documented on a daily basis. However troubling these frequent reports may be, the broader picture is even more frightening; the terror group has amassed far more firepower than explosives and guns. Multiple authoritative reports describe an ISIS arsenal complete with chemical weapons, scud missiles, American tanks, and anti-aircraft missiles.

It’s not surprising that an opportunistic killing machine like ISIS has stockpiled a multitude of weapons in an area that has seen decades of war. As the terror group has seized territory in Iraq and Syria and defeated local security forces, it has grabbed American, Chinese, and Soviet-style weaponry, including arms dating back to the 1970s and newer American M-16 rifles. Especially after conquering Mosul, Iraq, ISIS fighters inherited a wide array of modern internationally manufactured weapons. Reportedly, these include American Humvees, artillery pieces, tanks, and even black hawk helicopters. 

Beyond battlefield weaponry, ISIS has begun to experiment with more unconventional warfare, with the aim of launching attacks against civilians in Western cities.

In early January, Sky News obtained eight hours of video smuggled out of Raqqa, Syria, by an ISIS defector. The video—meant to instruct ISIS sympathizers in Europe and elsewhere—details how to build a driverless car equipped with a bomb, assemble various types of explosives, and repurpose anti-aircraft missiles. The self-driving car would contain a mannequin fitted with a thermal suit to outwit car bomb security scanners—regularly deployed in Western countries near government and military buildings—into registering that there is a driver inside.

The video was filmed in ISIS’s new “research center” in Raqqa, where engineers have been plotting to export the group’s violence to the West. Many of these engineers are Western foreign fighters who provide ISIS with valuable technical and scientific skills.

What may be a sober consideration for Western defense agencies are reportedly thousands of anti-aircraft missiles recommissioned by the research center. The terror group was rumored to have non-operational anti-aircraft missiles in the past, but it is now believed ISIS has discovered a way to make them functional again by maintaining their thermal batteries. This development could potentially change the battlefield calculations of future confrontations with the Islamist terror group.

The discovery of the video from Raqqa’s research center follows a December 2015 briefing from the European parliament on ISIS’s alleged attainment of non-conventional weapons. While the memo pointed out that ISIS has thus far utilized car bombs, suicide belts, and automatic weapons, it warned that EU states should prepare for the “genuine risk” of ISIS using chemical or biological weapons against targets in the EU.

Authorities have long posited the use of chemical weapons by ISIS. Reports from Iraq and Syria have detailed the treatment of patients with burns associated with mustard gas and neurotoxic acids. Former FBI agent Timothy Gil Sr. told Fox News in January that he believed ISIS operatives had experimented with chemical weapons inside Iraq and Syria with the intent to share their expertise—over social media—with potential lone wolf attackers in the West. Earlier this month, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that mustard gas had been used against Kurdish fighters last August, with an American diplomat alleging that ISIS was behind the attack.

Since the November 2015 Paris attacks, ISIS propaganda videos have repeatedly warned about an imminent attack on a major European city. While the group’s recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Ankara have depended on explosives and Kalashnikovs, it’s clear that ISIS has the intent—and perhaps now the capability—to stage an attack using deadlier weaponry.

While ISIS’s continued barbarism is revolting, its ambition and technical capabilities give it an even greater potential to spread death and suffering. There is certainty that the group has every intention to continue its reign of terror in its self-styled provinces, as well as in the EU, and in America. It would be dangerous for public officials and civilians alike to fail to appreciate the group’s true military aspirations.