Man Held in Vietnamese Embassy Bombing Case Awaits Bail Ruling

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge may decide today whether to set bail for a man who has been behind bars for more than two years, held on suspicion of trying to blow up the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand.

An attorney for Van Duc Vo said his client is a freedom fighter whose alleged crime was meant to be a political statement, not an actual bombing. He is not a flight risk but a dispirited U.S. citizen who would like to spend some time with his children and his ailing father, his lawyer said.

But U.S. authorities said the man is a flight risk, especially because he could face the death penalty if he is extradited to Thailand.

Vo's case has attracted widespread attention. He is viewed as a hero by many in the Vietnamese American community, but as a terrorist by others. Supporters have assembled outside the federal building in Santa Ana whenever Vo is in court. Vietnamese government leaders have pressed for his swift extradition.

Vo has been in custody since Oct. 12, 2001, when he was picked up at John Wayne Airport on suspicion of trying to detonate a backpack filled with explosives outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok.

U.S. Magistrate Paul Game could decide today whether Vo, a Baldwin Park resident and a member of a Garden Grove-based resistance group, should be allowed to go free on bail while a federal judge in Santa Ana reviews the extradition case. Vo's attorney, W. Michael Mayock, made an impassioned plea for his release at a hearing Monday in the federal courtroom.

A U.S. citizen, Vo has been held without bail at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center since his arrest, even though the U.S. attorney chose not to prosecute him for conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Authorities contend Vo placed the explosives in front of the Vietnamese Embassy on June 19, 2001, but the bomb failed to explode.

For 11 months, Vo, 43, has been awaiting a decision by U.S. District Judge Arthur Nakazato in Santa Ana on whether he should be extradited to Thailand to stand trial on nine explosives and firearms charges.

Nakazato received the case in December and has yet to issue a ruling.

The case, which has received international attention, has taken a confusing course through the courts, with Vo at one time agreeing to be extradited only to change his mind because he became convinced Thai authorities would send him to Vietnam, where he feared he would be tortured.

Vo is a member of Free Vietnam, a group dedicated to the overthrow of the communist government in Hanoi. The group claims a membership of 200,000, but other estimates put it closer to 2,000.

Vo was deported from Vietnam in 1996 after being jailed on charges that he had written articles for Vietnamese newspapers, a right afforded only Vietnamese citizens.

His brother, Vinh Tan Nguyen, 50, is facing charges in the Philippines in a similar alleged plot to bomb the Vietnamese Embassy there.

Thai and Vietnamese authorities have labeled the brothers and the Free Vietnam Group as terrorists and urged U.S. authorities to extradite Vo to Thailand.

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