Toyota to help probe over IS truck fleet; 3 held over Australia terror shooting set free

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TOKYO, Oct 8, (AFP): Toyota Thursday said it was willing to help the United States probe how the Islamic State group has managed to get hold of so many of its notoriously tough trucks. The Japanese manufacturer responded after an ABC News report on Wednesday said counter-terrorism officials at the US Treasury have been in contact with the auto giant over the issue.

Fleets of Toyota trucks are a common feature of IS propaganda videos out of Syria, Iraq and Libya — many converted into fast moving heavy gun platforms known as “technicals”. “We are supporting the US Treasury Department’s broader inquiry into international supply chains and the flow of capital and goods in the Middle East,” Toyota said in a statement. “Toyota has a strict policy to not sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities,” it said.

Toyota’s pick-up trucks — as well as similar vehicles made by Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Isuzu — have long been favoured by a host of militias, insurgencies and armies around the world thanks to their affordability, adaptability and durability. The final stages of a conflict in the late 1980s between Libya and Chad is often called “The Toyota War” because of the military successes Chadian soldiers had thanks to the fast moving pick-ups. Inspired by its tough reputation, the BBC’s Top Gear programme once famously tried to destroy a Toyota pick up by setting it alight, hitting it with a wrecking ball and even putting it on top of a building that was then blown up. Each time mechanics using a basic toolkit managed to bring the battered 4×4 back to life.

The Islamic State group, which has seized huge amounts of military hardware during its rise — much of it US military equipment left by fleeing Iraqi allies — boasts large numbers of pick-up trucks in its videos. “ISIS has used these vehicles in order to engage in military-type activities, terror activities, and the like,” Mark Wallace, a former US Ambassador who now runs a counter terrorism project, told ABC News. “In nearly every ISIS video, they show a fleet — a convoy of Toyota vehicles and that’s very concerning to us,” he added. The same report quoted Iraqi officials saying they feared new pick-up trucks were being smuggled into IS held territory from neighbouring countries. In its statement Toyota said it had strict “procedures and contractual commitments” in place to try and stop the vehicles falling into the wrong hands. “However, it is impossible for any automaker to control indirect or illegal channels through which our vehicles could be misappropriated, stolen or resold by independent third parties,” the statement added.

Three of four people arrested in Australia over a terror-linked murder by a radicalised teenager have been released without charge in a move police admitted Thursday was “incredibly frustrating”. The four, aged between 16 and 22, were seized during large-scale dawn raids across Sydney on Wednesday after police employee Curtis Cheng was shot outside New South Wales state police headquarters last week. Farhad Jabar, 15, shot the 58- year-old in the back of the head while reportedly shouting religious slogans before being gunned down in an exchange of fire with police. The Sydney Morning Herald, citing police sources, said Jabar was allegedly recruited by a group of extremists in western Sydney, who thought they were under too much surveillance to carry out the murder themselves. New South Wales state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said it was clear Jabar was radicalised and had “terrorist links,” but there was not enough evidence to hold three of the four men detained. An 18-year-old remains behind bars

“Only when we have sufficient evidence that can put us in a position where we can charge an offender” can suspects be brought to justice, he told commercial radio station 2GB. “We’ve taken a lot of material during the course of these searches and that’s going to take us a long time to go through… It’s incredibly frustrating for us.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the attack “appears to have been an act of terrorism”. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reported that two of the four detained were linked to an alleged plot to behead a “non-believer” in Sydney last year ordered by Islamic State jihadists, which police foiled.

It also said CCTV footage from Parramatta Mosque in western Sydney showed Jabar meeting several men in the lead-up to the killing. Police have yet to confirm this or why Cheng, a police accountant, was targeted. Canberra is concerned about the prospect of lone-wolf attacks by individuals inspired by groups such as Islamic State, and has cracked down on Australians attempting to travel to conflict zones including Syria and Iraq. The authorities lifted the terror threat alert to high a year ago, introduced new national security laws and have conducted several counter-terrorism raids. In September 2014, Melbourne police shot dead a “known terror suspect” who stabbed two officers and in December, Iranian-born self-styled cleric Man Haron Monis and two hostages were killed following a 17- hour siege at a Sydney cafe.

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