Golden State Terrorists

News & Politics

What do Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, the Philippines, Iraq, and Garden Grove and Long Beach, California have in common? They all appear to be harboring terrorists of one stripe or another. If President Bush is steadfast in his belief that "if they [countries] fund a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they're terrorists," look out California!

Randy Gould, editor of the e-zine The Oread Daily, facetiously asked in the November 26 edition, "Will the US bomb California? Can we expect Special Forces on the ground in Orange County?"

Garden Grove? Long Beach? Home to terrorists? That's right. During the past year, Time magazine and several other mainstream publications have identified organizations -- with home offices in the Golden State -- that are plotting coups, planting bombs in other countries and raising money for more of these activities. And they're not your usual Cuban exile groups.

Two organizations -- the Long Beach-based Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), and the Garden Grove-based Government of Free Vietnam (GFV) -- are finally drawing some attention from the U.S. government these days.

Cambodia's California Connection

In early January, Time-Asia reported that on November 24, 2000, "some 70 rebels armed with assault rifles and rocket launchers -- and wearing matching Cambodian Freedom Fighters T-shirts -- attacked government buildings in downtown Phnom Penh." Within an hour, the raiders were crushed by local authorities "but the fire-fight killed at least four people and terrified a nation still recovering from civil war."

The Long Beach, California-based Cambodian Freedom Fighters was founded and is led by Chhun Yasith, a 44-year-old American citizen whose family fled to the U.S. in 1982. When Yasith isn't organizing the overthrow of the Cambodian government he is an accountant by trade. Although the attack failed to ignite the masses, Yasith told Time-Asia that it succeeded in establishing his group as a force to be reckoned with. "We're definitely going to try again," he said. "There will be more operations. It won't be long."

Shortly after the failed attack, Yasith told the LA Weekly why the group resorted to armed violence against the Cambodian regime. "I did many nonviolent demonstrations in 1995 and 1996," he said, "but it is not workable. We will never change the nature of the communist dictatorship with rallies. Communists are like cows. When you talk to cows, they don't understand."

The Cambodian Freedom Fighters, who claim to have 500 members in the U.S. and up to 20,000 supporters in Cambodia, have an office in Long Beach, where, according to the LA Weekly, there are more than 50,000 Cambodian-American residents. According to its web site the group, legally registered with the Secretary of State of California, aims "to fight against communist[s] to protect the interests of Cambodian people." The web site points out that: "CFF has not recognized and will not recognize the current government who was born out of an election fraud and brutality, [and] gave immunity to the former Khmer Rouge Leaders who were responsible for the deaths of two million Cambodians instead of bringing them to justice. We, our children and later generation, [can] neither afford to stand by nor allow the dictators to continue their destructions to our homeland. CFF works and stands ... with all classes of the Cambodian National Armies under one color to free our country from communist dictatorship." (CFF can be contacted at: CFF USA-CB Office: 2728 E. 10th Street, Long Beach, CA 90804 Tel. (562) 433-9930, Fax (562) 433-7490).

In late June, BBC News reported that a Cambodian court had sentenced three U.S. citizens -- two in absentia -- to life in prison resulting from the November 2000 attack. The court also sentenced 27 Cambodians to sentences ranging from three years to life.

What has been the response by the Cambodian government? Given the climate generated by the president's war on terrorism, the U.S. government can't turn its head while the CFF plots more mayhem. Or can it? Prime Minister Hun Sen's government in Cambodia, has called in the U.S. to extradite Yasith. "We expect that America will recognize one standard for justice, not two," said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. The U.S. State Department responded that it "strongly deplores and condemns" the attacks and will seek to prosecute those involved. BBC News reports that the FBI has been investigating the group but has not yet issued a report. (For more on the political background of Yasith and CFF activities, see "Fighters, Leader Mired in Mystery" at the Bank of Thailand web site.)

Visions of Vietnam

The Government of Free Vietnam (GFV) is another outfit using its offices in Southern California to raise money to overthrow the government of Vietnam. According to research by The Oread Daily, the Garden Grove, Ca.-based GFV "consists of former South Vietnamese soldiers and leaders living in the U.S., Europe and Southeast Asia. The group has created training camps in the jungle along the Thai-Laotian border near Vietnam" where it claims to have trained some 100,000 supporters. It has a budget of about $1 million a year.

Nguyen Huu Chanh is the 51-year-old head of GFV. Chanh immigrated to the U.S. in 1982 and is, according to the November 27 Time Asia, "Vietnam's most-wanted terrorist, a globe-trotting rabble-rouser sought by police in his homeland and in the Philippines, where three of his associates were recently arrested with bombmaking materials." Over the past three years the GFV is "suspected in half a dozen attacks on Vietnamese targets in Europe and Asia."

Time Asia: "Earlier this month, U.S. federal agents arrested Free Vietnam operative Vo Van Duc, 41, for involvement in a failed June attempt to blow up the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok with two fertilizer bombs." Duc was charged in Los Angeles in mid-November with "conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction abroad and he could face life in prison." Chanh claims that Duc was acting on his own but in August, Chanh "openly bragged to Time of having planned several past incidents, including one foiled in 1999, when authorities in southern Vietnam arrested 38 people with explosives and plans to blow up national monuments."

Responding to the arrest of Duc, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh commented, "the U.S. and all governments should have a consistent attitude to terrorist activities."

The Oread Daily also reported that GFV's pre-September 11 "raids in the Philippines resulted in the arrests of several suspected terrorists." According to authorities in Manila, the Vietnamese exiles and their Japanese cohort "planned to bomb the Vietnamese Embassy to coincide with Vietnam's National Day. But far beyond the aborted bombing, the group was reportedly involved in a bigger plot to wreak chaos in Metro Manila."

Police also seized an "improvised explosive devise with a booster detonating cord and components..." at a GFV apartment in Manila. GFV claimed it was their "liaison office" in the Philippines. "It is not a terrorist cell as suspected by the press. The seizure described by the police [included] bags of ammonium nitrate, rolls of wires with improvised blasting caps, a 12-volt battery, relays, cellular phones, etc. ... technical material which have been used solely in research for possible upcoming operations in Vietnam."

According to Time, neither Yasith of Cambodia Freedom Fighters, nor Chanh of the Government of Free Vietnam are "feeling heat" from the U.S. government. Time reports that "Yasith spends his nights making calls to Thailand and Cambodia, marshaling his 'secret army,' confident that U.S. authorities are winking and looking the other way." Yasith confidently told Time that, "They've never given me a red light. That means there's a green light." Whether the U.S. government really has any intentions of trying to stop these groups remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam will continue to press the Bush Administration to do the right thing.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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