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Report: Vast, Standardized Production Facilities Allow ISIS To Produce 'High-Quality' Weapons


A weapons research group says the Islamic State is able to manufacture large quantities of sophisticated arms throughout its territory in Syria and Iraq. According to the group called Conflict Armament Research, ISIS has developed a complex, centrally controlled industrial production system. James Bevan is the executive director there, and he joins us now from London.

Thank you for being with us.

JAMES BEVAN: Thank you.

CHANG: What kind of weapons are we talking about? What is ISIS building?

BEVAN: They're building a wide range of weapons systems. So we have 120-millimeter mortar bombs and a wide range of rockets. And then in addition to that, they are producing what most people would commonly think of as improvised explosive devices or IEDs. They are made from nonstandard components. So for example, they are using agricultural and commercial commodities to mix and make what is essentially homemade explosive. But they are - they're doing it in a way that is heavily standardized, which means that they're attempting to mirror what you would expect in a national armed forces or national weapons production.

CHANG: So we're talking about pretty high quality here. Is that correct?

BEVAN: Yeah, it's very, very high quality. In terms of insurgent forces and rebel groups, it's the highest quality we've ever seen. The fact that everything is heavily standardized and the fact that we can go onto the battlefield, recover, for example, a rocket and then refer back to the documents - the standards that they issued in their own workshop - compare the two, they're accurate to within a tenth of a millimeter. So it's very, very high standard.

CHANG: What is the infrastructure like over there? I'm imagining large factories or plants. Is that what you found in Syria and Iraq?

BEVAN: No, it's very varied. So it ranges from very small specialized workshops to quite large facilities - for example, foundries. And they're very diffuse. So we've found them all across Iraq. So for example in Fallujah earlier this year, in Ramadi, in Tikrit and more lately in Mosul. And the fact that there are lots of different independent facilities is another reason why they're so carefully centrally managed. They need to produce exactly the same things in exactly the same way because your average Islamic State fighter expects his rockets to always go to the same distance and his mortars to always fit in the same diameter tube.

CHANG: Where is ISIS getting the raw materials to build so many weapons?

BEVAN: Well, some of the raw materials are locally available. But for their supplies of raw materials for explosives, which we would call chemical precursors, those are coming from further afield and primarily from Turkey.

CHANG: Is there a way to block the supply chain from Turkey? Is that something the Turkish government would have to get involved in?

BEVAN: As far as we know, the Turkish government has taken some steps to better control the supply of nitrate-based fertilizer. Our evidence suggests that much, much more needs to be done.

CHANG: Like what?

BEVAN: Basic controls - for example, we can see that they've gone to the same distributors in southern Turkey. And they've done so repeatedly, which means not only are they able to penetrate the market, but it's a robust supply because they can go back and do it again. Now, a lot of these companies, because of the scale of acquisition by Islamic State forces, they must be aware that new customers who turned up in the past two years buying chemicals that are well recognized internationally to be precursors for explosive devices. And they've done so with relative impunity.

CHANG: James Bevan, the director of Conflict Armament Research. He joined us via Skype. Thanks for joining us.

BEVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.