On July 8, 2022, the former prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, was publicly shot and killed by Tetsuya Yamagami. Yamagami sought revenge on a religious group which he believed Abe was a member of. Yamagami held this group responsible for his mother’s bankruptcy. Although distant from Indonesia (about 5,500 km away), the killing could have security ramifications on Indonesia. Inspired by the successful assassination, ISIS supporters in Indonesia are reinvigorated to kill political figures and security forces in the country. If the Indonesian government does not immediately arrest these ISIS supporters, a repeat of such unfortunate event is inevitable in Indonesia. To further contextualize this crucial security threat and way forward, this article first describes past political assasinations in Japan and Indonesia.
Past Political Assassinations in Japan
Political assassinations in Japan are extremely rare. Since 1860, Japan had only 29 political assassinations, both attempted and successful. This means that on average, a political assassination is conducted every 5.5 years. Most of these political killings and its attempts occurred in 1860-1870 and 1931-1950, where five politicians were killed in each period.
Apart from politicians being accorded security personnel, another reason for this low rate is Japan’s strict gun laws. The 1958 Swords and Firearms Possession Control Law prohibits civilians from owning firearms except for sporting purposes such as shooting and hunting championships. Even so, they are required to have a firearms license, which entails a very strict and lengthy process. Unsurprisingly, since the passing of the law, there were only three assasinations, all of which occurred from 2000 – 2022.
Although political assassinations in Japan are extremely rare, the success rate of assassination operations is 75%. The key to this success lies in the assasins’ military expertise and their meticulous planning. Yamagami, for example, who was from the navy had spent a year planning prior to his assassination of Abe.
Past Political Assassinations in Indonesia
In Indonesia, there have been at least 19 political assassination attempts since November 30, 1957. Of these cases, 14 were attempted by religiously motivated violent extremists with the remaining by former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) combatants. Thus, on average, a political assassination occurs every 3.25 years in Indonesia.
Unlike in Japan, the success rate of these attempts in Indonesia is low, at only 10.5%. This means only two of the 19 attempts were successful. There are three main reasons for this. First, effective policing to uncover assassination plots prior their conduct. The most recent was in 2019 when Indonesia’s National Police prevented members of a violent extremist group, JAD, from assassinating President Jokowi. In the same year, the police also prevented members of an anti-government group from assassinating senior officials such as Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Budi Gunawan, Wiranto, and Goris Mere. Second, assassins faced difficulty in conducting attacks due to the presence of security personnel around senior political figures. For example, an ISIS supporter, Syahrial Alamsyah alias Abu Rara, failed to kill the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Wiranto, on October 10, 2019 because members of Wiranto’s entourage managed to prevent Abu Rara from repeatedly stabbing Wiranto. Third, the high tendency of weapons used in these attempts to malfunction. For example, a member of the Mujahidin Islam Nusantara Force, Tajul Arifin alias Sabar, failed to kill the former chairman of the National Awakening Party, Matori Abdul Jalil, on March 5, 2000, because the gun he used jammed during the attempt. Consequently, he resorted to attempting to slash the former chairman with a machete. Likewise, Darul Islam members failed to kill the Governor of South Sulawesi, Syahrul Yasin Limpo, on November 11, 2012, because the pipe bomb he threw at the governor failed to detonate. Fourth, previous assassins were unprepared for any deviation of plans. For example, the Fikram group alias Ayah Banta, which consists of former members of GAM, failed to assassinate the Governor of Aceh, Irwandi, in March 2012, because the governor did not travel the road where they had planted an IED. They also failed to kill the deputy chairman of the North Aceh DPRD, Misbahul Munir, on January 10, 2012, because they solely relied on shooting at him. When their initial barrage of shots failed to hit him, they did not changed their tactics before their apprehension.
The two successful political assassinations in Indonesia were all carried out by former GAM combatants in Aceh. They were assassinations of the Lhokseumawe-based Aceh Party secretary, Syukri Abdullah alias Pangkuk, in Bireun, Aceh, on May 15, 2012, and the murder of a member of the Aceh National Party Task Force, Muhammad Bin Zainal Abidin, in Pidie, Aceh on April 26, 2013.
Three factors determined the success of these assassinations. First, the perpetrators possessed the military skills they gained during their time with GAM. The skills enabled them to plan and execute assassination operations effectively. Second, the perpetrators were well-equipped which included standard M16 and AK56 rifles. Third, they were well-versed with their fields of operation because they were locals residing there. Such knowledge enabled them to not only select an ideal time and location for their attacks but also their escape routes.
Pro-ISIS Militants’ Response to Shinzo Abe’s Assassination
ISIS supporters in Indonesia responded positively to the assassination of Shinzo Abe. They praised Tetsuya Yamagami for successfully killing the former prime minister. From their conversations in a pro-ISIS telegram group, there were indications that they were interested in conducting similar assassinations in Indonesia with homemade weapons. It is evident that Shinzo Abe’s assassination inspired pro-ISIS militants in Indonesia. Online research on pro-ISIS social media accounts conducted by the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), an NGO based in Jakarta, Indonesia, revealed that ISIS supporters continue striving to kill political figures and members of security forces in Indonesia. According to PAKAR, there is currently a small group of ISIS supporters planning simultaneous assassination operations across Indonesia.
These members do not yet have the firearms and expertise to make bombs for their planned operations. Additionally, their leaders have not given their approval to launch these operations. Nevertheless, they are determined to conduct their plans. Such strong intent will likely see them continue their operations even if they armed with only knives or machetes. Through careful planning, they would undoubtedly uncover opportunities for attacks. Strong intent, possession of weapons though rudimentary and opportunities for attacks could lead to a repeat or repeats in Indonesia.
Fortunately, current violent extremists in Indonesia generally lack the military skills, planning, and equipment as the Japanese assassins or former GAM combatants. Such low capabilities would impact the effectiveness of operations. Nevertheless, the Indonesian security forces must remain vigilant and continue taking preventive measures as done in the past. Notably, security forces must also keep abreast with potential terrorist innovations such as the use of drones that could be gamechangers. In this regard, the Indonesian anti-terror police unit, Densus 88, needs to conduct early, immediate intervention. Doing so will send an international message that Indonesia is a safe venue for the upcoming G20 countries meeting in Bali on November 15-16, 2022. Additionally, the security forces should consider providing more security personnel to Indonesian officials, particularly President Jokowi. Notably, during his official trips, President Jokowi frequently conducts unscheduled stops to meet those who had gathered to welcome him. Consequently, the presidential guards constantly scramble to secure the president in such stops. Though still a low threat as it requires quick coordination and deployment, such stops still present opportunities for violent extremists to infiltrate the crowds to kill the president. Successful or otherwise, any attempts on the president’s life carry negative signatures to Indonesia.