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10 charged with alleged Laos plot

Story Highlights

• Suspects "flagrantly violated numerous federal laws," said prosecutor
• Most of alleged conspirators are Hmong
• Suspects allegedly sought weapons, including C4-explosives, mines, missiles
• The United States normalized trade relations with Laos in 2005
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(CNN) -- Ten people, including a former general in the Laotian army, were arrested and charged in the United States with an alleged plot to overthrow the Laotian government.

More than 200 federal and local enforcement agents were involved in the raid, which involved six Californian cities, early Monday. Prosecutors described the alleged plan as "audacious" and said it was aimed at obtaining guns, missiles, rockets and explosives.

The suspects include Vang Pao, 77, who emigrated to the United States in 1975 after serving as a general in Laos, and Harrison Jack, 60, a West-Point educated former U.S. military officer, according to the prosecutor's office.

If convicted, the 10 suspects face possible life prison sentences.

"The United States cannot provide a safe harbor to those plotting to overthrow a government with whom we are at peace," said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott in a statement. "These defendants flagrantly violated numerous federal laws, including the Neutrality Act, in planning to topple the government of Laos."

Most of the alleged conspirators were Hmong, an ethnic minority group in Laos that helped U.S. operatives fight communist insurgents during the Vietnam War. Vang led CIA-backed Hmong forces as a general in the Royal Army of Laos, while Jack was involved in covert operations during the Vietnam War, according to The Associated Press.

After Laos fell to the communists in 1975, Hmong people began emigrating to the United States, and more than 500,000 now live in the country, according to the State Department.

The six cities where the arrest and search warrants were executed were: Los Angeles, Sacramento, Fresno, Chico, Stockton and Woodland.

One suspect, Lo Cha Thao, discussed an operation to send special operations mercenaries into the Laotian capital, Vientiane, to blow up government buildings, according to prosecutors.

The work of an undercover agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms foiled the plot, leading suspects to believe he could supply them with the weapons they wanted, prosecutors said. Those included the powerful C-4 explosive, AK-47 automatic rifles and missiles, rockets and mines.

Laos, like neighboring Vietnam, remains a communist country, but the government has liberalized the economy in recent years, allowing more private enterprise. The United States normalized trade relations with Laos in 2005.




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