Toyota trucks are quite popular among the world's terrorists

It may not be Toyota’s favourite product endorsement, but if anything comes near the AK-47 as a fashion statement for the global jihadi, it is the Japanese auto giant’s pickups. From Pakistan’s tribal belt to the unforgiving sands of the Sahara, these sturdy machines — particularly the Land Cruiser and Hilux models — have been loaded with everything from men to machine guns and pushed into battle.

Their most recent outing was in Mali — The Hindu’s Aman Sethi spotted many while on the trail of Islamists fleeing French airstrikes. Having himself made it to Timbuktu on a Land Cruiser doing 90 kmph over the Sahel landscape, he could understand the hardliners’ soft corner. Osama himself was partial to the Land Cruiser, said The New York Times in the early days of the ‘war on terror’.

These vehicles mean so much to the militants that, according to a 2010 Newsweek report, western troops began to notice a rather ironic tattoo on some Afghan fighters: a Canadian maple leaf.

The symbol was painted on the sides of the pickups in a shipment from Canada and the militants adopted it as a mark of all that they love about their vehicles.

The testing ground for these improvised “light cavalry” was strife-torn 1990s Africa. They even have a war named after them: The Toyota War of 1987 in which the Chadians very effectively armed these vehicles to crush the Libyan occupiers. Both sides of the Somalia civil war in the 1990s also used these extensively and to bloody effect. The vehicles earned the moniker “technicals” in Africa, since NGOs often used their “technical assistance grants” to keep these around for security.

But their most infamous outings were in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. “The Taliban were known for a lot of things and the Hilux was one, jacked-up and fast and menacing; they had conquered most of the country with them. You saw a Hilux and you could be sure that something bad was going to happen,” says Dexter Filkins — who reported extensively from the country before the U.S. came calling — in his book, The Forever War.

He describes instances of Sharia imposition ending with limbs and bodies unceremoniously dumped in the backs of these pickups.

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