In December 2012, a Garden Grove man by the name of Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen (of Vietnamese descent) went to Syria.
When asked why he went there in the aftermath of his arrest, his sister in particular made conflicting statements. He was there to study the Quran,help villagers, etc. However, she also admitted that he went there to “protect his brothers” in Syria and “help other people” in the fight against Assad’s dictatorship.
Nguyen is a Muslim revert of two years and had heard about the conflict in Syria. Like many others, he was determined to do something tangible to help the people of Syria.
Nguyen has extensive experience in the use of firearms (he had worked as a security guard, and was enrolled in the Los Angeles state militia, as well as “honing” his skills at a shooting range) he did what he was best at. In other words, he bravely decided to volunteer for the fight (possibly with the Free Syrian Army) in December 2012, flying to Lebanon to enter Syria.
According to media reports, Nguyen arrived in a village in “central Syria”. This was a small stretch of the Homs countryside adjacent to the Lebanese border which was under the control of the revolutionary forces. It included the city of Qusayr, which was hotly contested by the revolutionaries and the regime at the time, with tens of innocents being massacred by regime forces.
To get there he had to sneak into Syria over the Lebanese border and dodge sniper and mortar fire (by his own account), no doubt also braving areas in Lebanon populated by Hezbollah and their loyalists.
Nguyen had two Facebook accounts, both going by Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum (the Muslim name he adopted due to his friends going by ‘Ghannoum’ too). On January he posted to one: “Beside the unexpected mortar shells, tank shells, and daily heavy machine gun rounds, life here is chill.”The reason he was there was that he wanted to “fight Assad and his minions“, according to another post.
There he met and befriended Syrian revolutionary fighters and stayed with them for five months, fighting on the front-line against the Assad regime. At the time, there was constant fighting for the city and its surroundings.
On January 28th, he added a statement to his Facebook profile claiming that he had lost weight in Syria, but was fine, and “having a blast”. This was probably one of several posts which sadly brought him to FBI attention:
In April 2013 the Assad regime launched an offensive towards the city with the full backing of Hezbollah, relentlessly massacring their way towards the city through the surrounding countryside. Nguyen was involved in the defence of the areas surrounding the city, and the counter-attacks.
In one risky assault, according to his Facebook page, he lost as many as five friends as they successfully captured Daba’a mlitary airport from Assad’s forces. He posted a photograph of a blood-soaked Syrian revolutionary, describing him as a “dear brother of mine”. Other friends also shared the photo.
His Facebook profile has since been deleted as a result of the investigation, but his profile picture was the logo of an Islamic Free Syrian Army-affiliated Brigade (Jama’at Ahl al-Athar, active in Deir Ezzor and Homs) sporting the Syrian flag. Not a Nusra-style brigade as media coverage would later imply.
Additionally, the ‘likes’ on Nguyen’s page show that he supported opposition fighters; many ‘likes’ are FSA-linked pages, and his listed friends were FSA fighters (whose Facebook accounts are still active), those he met and fought alongside during his time in Homs.
Interaction with these fighters is evident from his discourse on his page as late as October, two months after he left Syria. Could any of them be Christians?
After some five months in Syria, Nguyen left Syria during April or May 2013. It was around this time that the regime and Hezbollah were attacking Qusayr from two sides; Nguyen risked staying too long until the FSA-controlled stretch of the border was captured (which would have closed off his route back home).
He returned in time for his sister’s graduation, although he was far from happy to have left Syria, as he stated clearly in a lengthy Facebook post from August 18th 2013. By all accounts, Nguyen was heartbroken by what he had seen & determined to keep on helping out as much as he could.
“Ya Illahi. My heart ache so much. It has been more than three months I have been back, wallahi, I don’t like the state I am in right now. Wallahi, since I was a young teenager, I have a long for the Army of God, and to be under the command of Jesus (a.s) to fight against the Anti-Christ and his army. After I left my brothers country, I have so many regrets of leaving my brothers and sisters who are still suffering over there. Allahu Ekbar, the life here isn’t satisfying my iman, my iman always tells me to go back there. Allahu Ekbar, finding a job is fairly easy, but having thought of my brothers over there brings me back to the state of wanting to resume God’s work. Allahu Eckbar, Ana hibuka feesibillah!!! 😦 Insh Allah, I’ll be back there.
Ya Allah, I long for a spouse that will love You with all her heart, her soul, and all her mind. Ya Allah, I long for a spouse that would support me in Your duty. Ya Allah, I long for a spouse that would strive for Your pleasure. Ya Allah, I long for a spouse who truly fears You. Ya Allah, I long for spouse that loves justice and hates injustice. Ameen.”
A screenshot of the full post is available here. Again, thanks goes to Kenneth Lipp for taking shots of these posts, prior to the deletion of Nguyen’s two profiles:
Nguyen clearly had intentions of returning to Syria to carry on the fight, although his concrete plans clearly weren’t finalised. It seems to have been around this period (around August 3rd) that Nguyen met a mysterious man who apparently claimed to be a recruiter for al-Qa’eda fighters. The man was an undercover FBI informer.
The informer either contacted him on Facebook after the FBI found his posts, or directly approached him due to Nguyen openly telling friends and associates that he offered to train fighters in Syria. The FBI has a presence in California State University, and it may be no coincidence that he was a member of the Muslim Student Association there. His profile used for interactions from Syria was linked to their Facebook group, which is no doubt watched regularly.
Nguyen apparently has a personality disorder bordering on schizophrenia, which makes him suggestible and susceptible to fantasy. This probably explains his behaviour upon meeting the man; he naively asked him if he was a fellow fighter within minutes (allegedly without prompting), informing him that he wanted to return to the fighting, stating that he was born to fight injustice.
Nguyen apparently had plans to fake his own death to return to the battlefield. However the informant (very helpfully) pointed out that using a false passport would be the best way. He went on to help Nguyen to commit a federal offence (lying on a passport application, a criminal offence in the US) by helping him to obtain a fraudulent passport under Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum.
Nguyen wanted to get training for his comrades in Syria. But the informed manipulated him into agreeing to his suggestion that he travel to Pakistan and train some 30 al-Qa’eda fighters in the use of firearms, so that they could conduct an ambush on coalition forces.
Nguyen accordingly purchased a plane ticket to Pakistan on October 1st, aiming to fly via Mexico, and journeyed with his new-found FBI friend to a Santa Ana bus depot for his flight. His dear friend’s duplicity went as far as to even walk him to the bus, where he was promptly cuffed by federal officers.
Nguyen’s Facebook pages containing evidence of tolerance, association with Syrian opposition groups (none of which are designated as terror groups) and his statements about wanting to fight against Assad were swiftly removed.
Nguyen was charged with trying to provide material support to al-Qa’eda, knowing that it was designated as a terrorist organisation, as well as being charged with lying on a passport application for a passport which he would supposedly use to commit “an act of international terrorism”. The indictment states the following:
“On or about August 23 2013, in Los Angeles County, within the Central District of California, and elsewhere, defendant SINH VINH NGO NGUYEN (“NGUYEN”), also known as (“aka”) “Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum”, willingly and knowingly made a false statement in an application for a passport under the authority of the United States, contrary to the laws regarding the issuance of such passports” and so on.
It alleges that Nguyen lied about various things in his passport application, such as his “name, age, his date of birth, his place of birth, his parents’ names, his parents’ place of birth, and falsely answered “no” to whetherer he had ever applied for or been issued with a US passport book”.
The full text of the indictment is available here, as are numerous other photographs from Nguyen’s two profiles.
In December 2013, after initially “firmly” pleading not guilty to the charges, finally pleaded guilty to them all in a plea agreement in which he admitted planning to to to Pakistan and train some 30 al-Qa’eda fighters for 5-6 weeks, who would then go on to ambush coalition forces.
On June 30th 2014, Nguyen was sentenced to 13 years in prison for attempting to aid al-Qa’eda; it was very specifically mentioned that he used Facebook and other online methods in order to try to reach out to the group, which could refer to how he came into contact with the informer.
Many things are unclear, but the following is clear: the FBI preyed on a man who is highly likely to have had a mental disorder, turning into another made-up “terrorist” in order to keep the public in a perpetual state of fear, as is their ongoing strategy directed specifically at the Muslim community.
Not only did this informant seemingly suggest the whole plan to a man who seems to have been on the schizophrenic spectrum, but also advised him to commit passport fraud. Where are the informer’s charges of lying on a passport application, and manipulation of a US citizen? Everything was done under his supervision. However, if Nguyen agreed to aid al-Qa’eda then a measure of blame has to fall on him too.
The opening of an October 2013 news article on Fox News speaks volumes:
” A 24-year-old American charged with attempting to assist al-Qaida in international terrorism was enticed into confessing to an undercover FBI agent who posed as a recruiter for the extremist organization and provided him with a false passport, a prosecutor told a judge Monday.”
The FBI made up a fake plot, then charged Nguyen for his role. Not only that, but they helped him to begin to leave the country and carry it out (the agent even escorted him towards the bus where he was arrested) and then arrested him before he left.
- That is, if we even believe the US government’s narrative. I talked to Nguyen’s friend N (who also happens to be a personal friend, and whose name will remain anonymous) after the arrest. He informed me that Nguyen hated al-Qa’eda, was a member of the Free Syrian Army, and was trying to get money to him. So is the FBI lying to us?
Nguyen was arrested with some $1850 in Syrian pounds in his possession, as well as pamphlets on shooting, battle plans, and hard drive containing videos on weapons. It seems to confirm Monzer’s narrative, that Nguyen’s aim was to help the Syrian people and that he was no radical.
Even the judge himself expressed skepticism about the case, claiming that from what he saw, Nguyen has no special skills to offer al-Qa’eda whatsoever. This isn’t far fetched; they already know how to shoot and launch ambushes. However, the judge was provided with none of the evidence he wanted. According to the prosecution, “he was providing himself”, and that was all he needed to know. This was after the judge had bluntly stated the following:
“I don’t see evidence that this defendant had any particular skill in firearms, or that he had the ability to procure or deliver weapons to these 25-30 individuals. This is the part of the case that escapes me.”
In the judge’s opinion, Nguyen is a “wannabe” at best (if these accusations are correct).
Nguyen’s case echoes so many other cases in which US citizens have been deliberately enticed by their own governments into incriminating themselves under anti-terrorism laws, helped along the way by friendly informers, then swiftly pounced on when they attempt to act on the plans that their own government helped them to put into action.
Eric Harroun, a US Free Syrian Army fighter, was similarly duped by the FBI into incriminating himself, partly due to his extensive social media postings. It turned out that he had sought directions from a CIA agent to procure arms for anti-regime groups. Abdalla Ahmad Tounisi, 18, was lured into arrest after he joined a fake website designed to lure would-be fighters. This case echoes both.
By writing this article, I am not absolving Nguyen of responsibility. The facts of this case, when they available, are often vague. If he willingly supported al-Qa’eda prior to meeting the informant,and willingly went along with the plan, then he is of course severely in the wrong. We mustn’t forget, however, that foreign imperialism & slaughter is what motivates people to join these terror groups in the first place.
But from the scant evidence that has been presented to the prosecution and to the pubic, a vulnerable man with a personality disorder was entrapped by the FBI. Hardly an insidious terrorist devising malicious schemes. It seems unlikely that he would even have thought of such a scheme (if the US government is telling the truth) without incitement.
There are some possible scenarios:
- Nguyen’s personality disorder and suggestible nature resulted in the informant suggesting the whole scheme to him, and Nguyen (already keen to leave the country once more) was keen to join it. The agent’s alleged use of a “skillful” script to get him to commit to the plan is testimony to this.
- Nguyen is innocent and the charges have been falsely weighed against him, judging from his friend’s testimony and the sketchy nature of much of the evidence.
Either way, Nguyen comes off as a well-meaning young man keen to assist others, albeit a vulnerable, suggestible fantasist. Even his own defence lawyer frankly claimed that everyone rejected him… Except the US government.
Whatever scenario was played out some months ago, and to whatever extent Nguyen’s guilt goes, the fact remains that various governments seem hell-bent on dissuading people from fighting the Assad regime; not only by misleading the public into believing that this is just another Middle Eastern war, but by entrapping, ostracising and arresting returning and would-be fighters to scare off others.
For my full piece on the vilification of foreign fighters in the Syrian genocide, see this link.