ask an expert

We Asked a Former Mujahideen If Transporting 30 Million Fireworks Was a Bad Idea

Don't do it.
May 30, 2017, 10:15am
Photo by diana does/ Flickr CC License

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of solemn reflection and restraint from our base urges. But once Lebaran (Eid al-Fitr) hits, Indonesians like to celebrate with a bang—or 30 million bangs. The fireworks are often so crazy over the Eid weekend in Jakarta that it sounds like the city is under attack. That or celebrating a never-ending New Year's Eve.

So all those fireworks have to come from somewhere right? Turns out some guys from Indramayu, West Java, had the same idea. Five men packed 30 million fireworks into 300 cement bags and set off in a minivan toward the Indonesian capital. The problem? The fireworks were illegal. Local authorities, acting on a tip, intercepted the van along the notoriously dangerous Pantura highway.

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"An elf [minivan] was deliberately used to try to fool the officers," said Senior Commissioner Arif Fajarudin, of the Indramayu police.

Fireworks are a big industry in Indramayu, where three sub-districts have turned fireworks production into a village-wide cottage industry. The industry provides jobs for literally thousands of workers, and it makes sure that revelers in big cities like Jakarta are spoiled for choice.

The main market for little matchstick firecrackers are young kids, many who love to set off the loud, smokey sticks in the city's narrow alleys. But these fireworks were banned by police over their crude, and dangerous, construction.

Now typically, these tiny fireworks aren't all that dangerous. But what about 30 million of them? Speeding down the Pantura highway in a minibus filled with 300 cement bags of fireworks sounds insanely dangerous.

So we reached out to Nasir Abas, a seasoned mujahedeen and former weapons expert, to ask him, how dangerous are that many fireworks… really?

VICE: OK, so 30 million firecrackers. How dangerous would that be?
Nasir Abas: There's no exceptions, contraband like that is extremely dangerous. It can be used as an explosive. Raw materials can easily be extracted from the firecrackers with materials you can easily acquire at any chemical supply store.

Could these firecrackers be turned into a bomb like the one recently used in Kampung Melayu?
The Kampung Melayu bomb was quite large in magnitude. It could even be considered a high-explosive if we look at the casualties. I doubt an explosion caused by a bunch of firecrackers would be as massive as that.

So firecrackers and bombs are totally different things? There needs to be more in common than 'they both explode'?
Well of course. Bombs are made of many different chemicals.

So how dangerous would 30 million firecrackers be if they exploded at the same time?
It would definitely be destructive. There was an example where a whole warehouse of firecrackers exploded and burned up. But firecrackers are low-grade explosives. The effects are not demolishing like a bomb, they burn instead. Fireworks are made of something similar to gunpowder, which has the kinetic energy of a low-explosive material. Fireworks do have, in some instances, destructive chemicals in them, and the can cause quite a bit of damage, but not as much as a bomb. But I won't go deeper into the details of why. [Laughs]