Non-lethal weapons needed for more effective counter-terrorism
by Dian Firmansyah
Last Friday saw the latest raid on terrorists in Ciputat, south of Jakarta, which resulted in death of two of the most wanted person by the police anti-terror squad. The operation was actually to capture them alive, but it was foiled when one of the terrorists saw the anti-terror squad. Cornered in their rented room, Saifuddin Zuhri and Syahrir were shot dead when trying to resist by throwing a pipe bomb on the raiding squad. One of the officers was reported hurt because of the bomb. One person, presumed a courier for the two terrorists, was apprehended by the Police about a kilometer from the raid site.
The latest operation is just one the recent operations launched by the Indonesian Police to capture the terrorist network responsible for the Marriot and Ritz-Carlton July 7 bombing. The majority of the raid operation resulted in death of the terrorists, as can be seen on Temanggung raid (killed Ibrahim), Jatiasih Bekasi (killed Eko Setiawan and Aer), Jebres Solo (killed Noordin M.Top), and the Ciputat raid (killed Saifuddin Zuhri and Syahrir).
While the death of terrorists in such operation are popularly considered a significant achievement, they are not really favored by the law enforcement and the government. It is unquestionably a tactical success, because dead terrorists can’t do anything to terrorize the society any more. But is it a strategic success? The death of terrorists, especially the key figures, hinders the Police to reveal more of the terrorist activities and network. When a terrorist shot dead during an operation, he took all the knowledge, network of contacts and information useful for the Police buried with him. Dead man can’t talk.
Moreover, death of terrorists are likely to fuel sympathy to their cause, especially from their relatives and friends that feels the government had been overacting by using excessive force and “executing” them without a due trial. The dead terrorist then becomes a martyr and a symbol of state’s suppression and incites desire carry on the fighting for their cause. This can be seen in the funerals of some of them, which displays some written signs such as “Mati satu tumbuh seribu”. So while it is a tactical success, dead terrorists are a long-term strategic liability for the grand counter-terrorism strategy. On the other hand, capturing terrorists alive for trial and extraction of useful information is the ideal condition for counter terrorism. If in the future the captured terrorist can be deradicalized and in turn help the counter-terrorism efforts, then the advantage will be three-fold.
But the reality in the field is far from enabling the Police to reach the above ideal aim. Assuming the terrorist are holed in with firearms and explosives, the raid squad is usually equipped with assault rifles, sniper rifles, hand grenades, tear gas and explosives. In some operation, a tactical robot is also employed to get a peek of situation inside the house of the terrorist. In some cases low explosives were thrown into the room to create shock and render the terrorist unconscious, however, this tactics potentially caused the terrorist to die instead of knocked out. This is aggravated with the raid squad’s action of pouring the houses with bullets, and sometimes hand grenades, which further diminishes the already slim chance to capture the target alive. This tactics can be seen in the Temanggung raid on early August, where the terrorist was cornered to a bathroom after more than 12 hours of fighting. Subsequent action from the Police squad is to shoot the back wall of the bathroom and through the ventilation hole. One of the bullets bounce back inside the bathroom and the ricochet killed Ibrahim.
Non-lethal weapons, which are weapons designed to temporarily incapacitate, disable or disorienting targets rather than killing them, can be quite useful to maximize chances to capture the terrorist alive. There are a number of such weapons with different working methods, ranging from tear gas, flash-bang grenades, knock out gas, electric shock, or a simple rubber bullet. Non-lethal weapons was originally intended to use for crowd control and self defense purposes, but now some of these weapons are also used by the military and special forces for their operation and if used in counter-terrorism raid may greatly enhance the chance of capturing the terrorists alive.
One of non-lethal weapons that can be used for counter-terrorism raid is the flash-bang grenades, which produces very loud noise (up to 170 decibel), dazzling light and shock wave when ignited. The device is designed to create a sensory overload which temporarily causes confusion and an inability to effectively respond to raiding team’s actions. When applied, these flash-bang grenades will throw the target temporarily blind, deaf and shocked. The M84 flash-bang grenade has now been used by US military to increase the flexibility in the application of force during military operations.
Another non-lethal weapons that can be used for such operation is the knockout (KO) gas. KO gas is a sleeping gas, an anaesthetic gas that has rapid effect to render temporarily unconscious those who inhale them. There are many volatile anaeshtetics that can be used as KO gas, such ashalothane vapour (Fluothane), methyl propyl ether (Neothyl), and methoxyflurane (Penthrane).
In the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis where around 850 people were taken hostage by armed men with explosives attached to their bodies as well as planted in the whole building, the Russian special forces used a type of knockout gas derived from felantyl. They injected this colorless gas into the building through ventilation system and some discreetly drilled holes to put around fifty hostage takers unconscious before storming the huge building half an hour later. Because of the effects of the gas, majority of the hostage takers had been unconscious by the time the special forces entered the building.
The use of KO gas is one non-lethal weapons is suitable for current counter-terrorism raid, and well within the capability of our defense research and manufacture establishment to produce. The KO gas can be delivered through gas canister shot from the standard launcher just like tear gas. Since Indonesia’s Pusat Industri Angkatan Darat (Pindad) manufactures tear gas canister for the Police, it is only a question of combining the KO gas with the right dispersing agent into the gas canister.
Had KO gas been used in Temanggung, Solo and Ciputat raid, the Police may have been able to disable and capture the targets alive. In all three raids the situation is ideal for the use of KO gas. The targets were cornered inside a confined space (a house or bathroom) where KO gas canister can be launched and will quickly saturate the air inside and knocked everyone inside it unconscious. It may also change the outcome of the 2005 raid in Batu, Malang that killed Dr.Azahari.
Since capturing the terrorist will bring the maximum advantage to current counter terrorism effort, the use of non-lethal weapons should be considered for raid operation. It may not suitable to all raid operations, but it will provide greater chance to capture the terrorists alive than just using conventional weapons.
The writer is a master’s degree student of defense management at Bandung Institute of