12 Jul 2016

Inside an ISIS arms factory

From Nine To Noon, 9:29 am on 12 July 2016
Improvised rocket propelled explosives at an abandoned ISIS-run factory in Fallujah

Improvised rocket propelled explosives at an abandoned ISIS-run factory in Fallujah Photo: Conflict Armament Research

Since Iraqi soldiers re-took Fallujah from the Islamic State or IS forces last week, researchers have been combing the city for clues as to how the group works.

One major find is a makeshift arms factory full of homemade rockets, complete with paperwork outlining the manufacturing process, distribution networks and even a rudimentary research and development programme.

Marcus Wilson is the managing director of Conflict Armaments Research. Kathryn Ryan speaks with him about what his team has found.

Read an edited excerpt of the interview below:

How did you find this factory?

As we do with a lot of our documentation sites in the region, we work closely with local partners on the ground. In this case it was the Iraqi security forces, including the Iraqi counter-terrorism service and popular mobilisation forces. What we do is we embed with them and they will overrun a position and make that position secure and then our investigators go in and document the captured items and items remaining behind.

What have you found, then? At least one if not more arms factories?

That’s right. Our investigators a couple of weeks ago went and documented items in two workshops… we also found documentation to suggest there were seven workshops throughout the city of Fallujah that were being used to basically manufacture components that would then be put together to produce improvised bombs. They’re known as IRAMS. An IRAM is an Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions, so essentially a rocket. These items are being produced across several different workshops in a really highly organised and what we call a quasi-industrial scale to supplement their existing military stockpiles.

What our investigators were able to stumble upon was – quite interestingly – the process and the bureaucracy behind it. So not only were they able to document the weapons, they were able to see documentation about how ISIS were producing these weapons.

Just looking at the rockets, they look pretty rudimentary… it doesn’t look like terribly sophisticated weaponry, what is it capable of?

No, they’re not, they’re not as sophisticated as the military-grade weapons that they do also have their hands on. But what these rockets are a larger calibre than the military stuff that they will have possession of. So essentially the ‘bang’ will be bigger. But because they are improvised, they are going to be less predictable, the range is going to be less, but they will still be incredibly devastating if detonated in the right location.

Do you have numbers? Do you know how many were made in that factory or other factories as well?

Well the documents that we recovered from this site said that since September 2015 this workshop alone has produced 2500. The scale of this is quite interesting, in that it suggests to us that they are struggling to get a hold of the military-grade weaponry that they require to fight the war. They’re having to build their own munitions to supplement those forces. So this industrial-scale theme that we’re seeing through these discoveries is interesting.

It’s not only the fact that they’re being built on a large scale, but also that they’re being organised at a really high level, so what does that tell us about the Islamic State Forces? It says that there are people there who know how to put a process in action. There are people there who in the past perhaps run working shops and run manufacturing scales. It shows that they have got very mundane day-to-day organisation, there are time sheets and there are testing processes.