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Man Injured in Pipe Bomb Blast Charged Under U.S. Patriot Act

If convicted in the Santa Ana explosion, he could get 35 years to life in prison. His brother faces a federal conspiracy count.

June 18, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

A man arrested after a pipe bomb exploded in his car in Santa Ana was charged Tuesday as a terrorist under the federal Patriot Act.

Hai Duc Le also was charged with using a weapon of mass destruction in Sunday's incident. If convicted, he faces 35 years to life in federal prison.

Although the explosion occurred near Rep. Loretta Sanchez's office, authorities have not connected it to an act against the Garden Grove Democrat. On Tuesday, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters said the bombing might be linked to a cafe near the office.

Hai Duc Le and his brother, Hien Duc Le, both were charged with conspiracy to make a destructive device. They were charged under federal law, authorities said, because the penalties are more severe than under state statutes.

Walters said investigators found enough material in the car trunk and in the family house in Garden Grove to make at least three or four similar remote-control bombs. He said the bomb was "designed to inflict a tremendous amount of damage" but added that the explosion that seriously burned Hai Duc Le was something of a dud: "I don't believe the device detonated to its maximum potential."

That bomb, made with PVC pipe, was remote controlled and filled with roofing nails that shot out during the explosion, authorities said.

Investigators also found a rifle scope that could help a bomber home in on a long-distance target and a four-bottle case of gunpowder, with one bottle missing. In the garage, police found tiny rocket engines, rocket igniters and glue to connect PVC pieces, all of which were connected to bomb-making, federal officials said.

Hai Duc Le was severely burned on the hands and torso when the bomb exploded Sunday afternoon in a strip mall parking lot at Harbor Boulevard and West McFadden Avenue. His brother was arrested Monday on suspicion of being involved in the incident, although authorities say they do not believe he was near the site of the explosion.

Hai Duc Le's car was parked outside a Sanchez campaign office. Witnesses said he was sitting in his car listening to the radio for 10 or 15 minutes before the bomb detonated. The office was closed, and Sanchez was not in Orange County. Santa Ana police said that Sanchez's office in Garden Grove had been helping a Le family relative with an immigration matter.

Federal prosecutors and Santa Ana police appeared to disagree Tuesday as to whether the bomb was aimed at Sanchez. At a news conference, Assistant U.S. Atty. John Hueston said, "We can't throw out that the congresswoman or someone in her office was the target."

But Walters said, "We don't believe she was the target." He said investigators suspected the bombing was connected to a cafe in the shopping center, which caters to Vietnamese customers. He said the target may have been a customer.

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Times staff writer Mai Tran contributed to this report.

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