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How ISIS Produced Its Cruel Arsenal on an Industrial Scale

Taken together, the scope and scale of Islamic State production demonstrated the perils of a determined militant organization allowed to pursue its ambitions in a large, ungoverned space.

Some weapon components, for example, were essentially standardized, including locally manufactured injection-molded munition fuzes, shoulder-fired rockets, mortar ammunition, modular bomb parts and plastic-bodied land mines that underwent generations of upgrades. Many were produced in industrial quantities.

The findings also included apparent prototypes of weapons that either were not selected for mass production or were abandoned in development, including projectiles loaded with caustic soda and shoulder-fired rockets containing blister agent.

While the Islamic State has been routed from almost all its territory in Iraq and Syria, security officials say that its advances pose risks elsewhere, as its members move on to other countries, its foreign members return home and veterans of its arms-production network pool and share knowledge and techniques online.

“They’re spreading this knowledge all over the world,” said Ernest Barajas Jr., a former Marine explosive ordnance disposal technician who has worked with ordnance-clearing organizations in areas occupied by the Islamic State. “It’s going to the Philippines, it’s in Africa.” He added, “This stuff’s going to continue to grow.”


An Islamic State weapons experiment that failed: a 120-millimeter mortar projectile filled with caustic soda, also known as lye. The fill is highly corrosive and can burn a victim’s skin and respiratory tracts. It caused the munition to rust so badly that it could not be fired.

Ernest Barajas Jr.

Born of Insurgency

One reason for the Islamic State’s level of sophistication was clear: Its armaments programs grew out of the…

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