Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 109 / Asia 2 minutes

Illicit Arms in Indonesia

The Indonesian government could reduce the circulation of illegal firearms by improving procedures for guarding and monitoring police and military armouries, conducting regular audits of gun importers and enforcing controls over the “airsoft” industry.


A bloody bank robbery in Medan in August 2010 and the discovery in Aceh in February 2010 of a terrorist training camp using old police weapons have focused public attention on the circulation of illegal arms in Indonesia. These incidents raise questions about how firearms fall into criminal hands and what measures are in place to stop them. The issue has become more urgent as the small groups of Indonesian jihadis, concerned about Muslim casualties in bomb attacks, are starting to discuss targeted killings as a preferred method of operation.

The Indonesian government could begin to address the problem by reviewing and strengthening compliance with procedures for storage, inventory and disposal of firearms; improved vetting and monitoring of those guarding armouries; auditing of gun importers and gun shops, including those that sell weapons online; and paying more attention to the growing popularity of “airsoft” guns that look exactly like real ones but shoot plastic pellets.

The problem needs to be kept in perspective, however. It is worth addressing precisely because the scale is manageable. Indonesia does not have a “gun culture” like the Philippines or Thailand. The number of people killed by terrorist gunfire in Indonesia over the last decade is about twenty, more than half of them police, and most of the deaths took place in post-conflict central Sulawesi and Maluku. The nexus between terrorism and crime is not nearly as strong as in other countries. There have been a few cases of bartering ganja (marijuana) for guns – and one case of trading endangered anteaters – but in general, narco-terrorism is not a problem.

Jihadi use of armed robberies as a fund-raising method is a more serious issue, with banks, gold stores and ATMs the favourite targets. As of this writing it remained unclear who was behind the Medan robbery – although criminal thugs remain the strongest possibility – but jihadi groups have robbed Medan banks before, most notably the Lippo Bank in 2003. Such crimes constitute a miniscule proportion of the country’s robberies, but it is still worth looking at where the guns come from when they occur. The problem may increase as the larger jihadi groups weaken and split, particularly those that once depended on member contributions for financing day-to-day activities. Recruitment by jihadis of ordinary criminals in prisons may also strengthen the linkage between terrorism and crime in the future.

There are four main sources of illegal guns in Indonesia. They can be stolen or illegally purchased from security forces, taken from leftover stockpiles in former conflict areas, manufactured by local gunsmiths or smuggled from abroad. Thousands of guns acquired legally but later rendered illicit through lapsed permits have become a growing concern because no one has kept track of them. Throughout the country, corruption facilitates the circulation of illegal arms in different ways and undermines what on paper is a tight system of regulation.

Jakarta/Brussels, 6 September 2010

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