11th suspect arrested in Laos overthrow plot; indictments handed down
Friday, June 15, 2007
Dang Vang, 48, was arrested at his Fresno home in an early morning raid by agents from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.
Dang Vang, Vang Pao and the others are charged with violating the U.S. Neutrality Act, which outlaws using United States soil to conspire to overthrow a foreign government that has peaceful relations with the U.S.
"Federal law is without equivocation: you cannot conspire to overthrow a foreign government with whom our nation is at peace," U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said in a statement to reporters.
According to the ATF, Dang Vang put the group's "action plan" to paper, summarizing its plot to blow up government buildings in Laos and assassinate government officials. The plot even had a name: "Operation Popcorn," or "Political Opposition Party's Coup Operation to Rescue a Nation."
In addition to the 77-year-old Vang Pao and Dang Vang, 48, those charged are:
- Harrison Jack, 60, a West Point graduate, retired California National Guard colonel and U.S. Army Ranger in the Vietnam War.
- Lo Cha Thao, 34, of Clovis
- Lo Thao, 53, of Sacramento
- Youa True Vang, 60, of Fresno
- Hue Vang, 39, of Fresno
- Chong Vang Thao, 53, of Fresno
- Seng Vue, 68, of Fresno
- Chue Lo, 59, of Stockton
- Nhia Kao Vang, 48, of Rancho Cordova, California
Most of the men indicted are prominent members of the Hmong immigrant community in California's Central Valley. They were arrested last week in a sting operation as the group was trying to purchase a rifles, missiles, rocket launchers, mines and explosives from an ATF agent posing as an arms dealer.
In an 88-page criminal complaint, federal prosecutors detailed the plot, which included airlifting the weapons to Thailand, and had an estimated cost of US$27.9 million. Funds for the operation were raised from donations by the Hmong community and other supporters of Vang Pao from across the U.S.
During the 1960s and '70s, Vang Pao led a covert army of Hmong people, backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, against communist forces in the Laotian Civil War, or "Secret War", which paralleled the U.S. war in Vietnam.
Since the communist takeover of Laos in 1975, according to a March 2007 report by Amnesty International, Hmong people in Laos have taken to hiding in the mountains, on the run from a government that persecutes them for their role in the war.
U.S.-Laos diplomatic relations were strengthened in 1992, and in 2004, President George W. Bush extended normal trade relations to the southeast Asian country.
- "Bail denied in Laos overthrow plot, Hmong protest" — Wikinews, June 12, 2007
- "Ten charged with plot to overthrow Laos government" — Wikinews, June 5, 2007
- Associated Press. "U.S. indicts 11 in Hmong plot to overthrow Laos government" — , June 15, 2007
- Suzanne Hurt. "11th man arrested in California on Laos coup plot" — , June 15, 2007
- Tim Eberly and Marc Benjamin. "11th man held in alleged Laos plot" — , June 15, 2007
- Monica Davey, The New York Times. "Hmong split on leader's legacy" — , June 15, 2007
- Hiding in the jungle - Hmong under threat, a March 2007 report by Amnesty International