Fifteen Vietnamese were sentenced on Wednesday to a total of more than 100 years in prison for an alleged terrorist plot that involved using petrol bombs to attack the nation’s busiest airport ahead of a key holiday earlier this year.
The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City meted out jail terms ranging from three to 16 years to members of the group for their foiled attacks on Tan Son Nhat International Airport, at the four-day trial which began on Tuesday.
Authorities charged them with “acting to overthrow the people’s government,” “participating in terrorism to overthrow the government,” “damaging property,” and “stockpiling military weapons,” state media reported.
They also were accused of having online connections to foreign groups who had financed their plot in April before Liberation Day celebrations at the end of the month, according to state-controlled Thanh Nien newspaper.
State-run media and officials gave no motive for the group’s activities, which caused no injuries or damage, the paper said.
Though terrorism attacks rarely occur in authoritarian Vietnam, they can be punishable by death.
The group’s leader, Dang Hoang Thien, was sentenced to 16 years in prison and five years of house arrest.
Other members of the group who received lengthy sentences included Thai Han Phong who received 14 years in prison; Nguyen Thi Chung, 12 years in prison; Ngo Thuy Tuong Vy, 11 years in prison and three years of house arrest; Nguyen Ngoc Tien, 11 years in prison; and Nguyen Duc Sinh, 10 years in prison and three years of house arrest.
Bui Cong Thanh, Le Hung Cuong, Tran Quoc Luong, Vu Mong Phong, Hoang Van Duong, Hung Van Vuong, Doan Van The, Tran Van No each received jail terms of between five and eight years and three years of house arrest.
Truong Tan Phat was given the lowest sentence of five years in prison and three years of house arrest.
Thien’s girlfriend, Le Thi Thu Phuong, was given an 18-month suspended sentence for not reporting the plot.
A witness at the trial, who requested anonymity, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service by email that at the end of the trial Thein said he had chosen an incorrect method but he did not regret his path.
Thien also said he would take responsibility for his actions and would not request leniency from the court, according to the witness.
Other group members protested the trial, shouting that it was not fair.
Temporary Vietnam Government
Authorities say the defendants were members of an overseas “counter-revolutionary” force called the Temporary Vietnam Government led by Dao Minh Quan and Lisa Pham.
The indictment says Pham directed the group to buy petrol bomb materials detonated by remote control to blow up Tan Son Nhat airport on April 30 and May 1. It also implicates her in the explosion of a gasoline tanker at the airport on April 22.
Pham, however, has denied the allegations.
“I don’t know anything about this,” she told RFA on Tuesday.” The Vietnamese Communist authorities keep accusing me, although I don’t know who these people are. I heard they only went online to search for information. If they [the Vietnamese government] insist on accusing me, I will sue them for slander in international courts.”
According to court documents, Quan founded the Temporary Vietnam Government in 1991 along with other Vietnamese in California, a state-run Tuoi Tre News reported on Wednesday.
Through the internet and social media, the group called for violence and riots to overthrow the Vietnamese government and created several smaller cells to carry out terrorist acts and to disseminate anti-government information in Vietnam, the report said.
By 2007, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security stifled the organization’s activities, but Quan and others still living overseas tried to restart the group in 2013, it said.
In late 2016, Quan got Pham and others to form an armed group to carry out terrorist activities, kill Vietnamese officials, and sabotage important buildings in Vietnam, the report said.
They made petrol and smoke bombs to use during protests and attacks on local police stations as well as purchased weapons to assassinate officials and Party members, it said.
In April 2017, the group, said to be instructed by Pham, planned to explode a bomb in a parking lot for impounded vehicles at the Bien Hoa police station in southeastern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at exploding the bomb and suspicious passengers notified police, Vy managed to detonate a bomb inside a terminal where it caused a fire and forced travelers to panic.
After that attack, Pham reportedly told Thien to make more petrol bombs to prepare for an attack at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, the report said.
Vietnam’s government on Tuesday introduced a 10,000-strong brigade called Force 47 to fight anti-state propaganda on the web, cybercrimes, and what it considers “wrongful views” on the internet, according to state media reports.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.