Chu Thi Hai Loc put up metal and canvas construction fencing around her house in Hanoi's Cau Giay District to discourage improvised "bombs" loaded with fermented shrimp paste, paint, feces and, occasionally, a mix of all three.
After local police offered vague solutions to homeowners like Loc, many families in the capitol have thrown up similar defenses against what they call “terrorist dirty bombings” --low-tech missile attacks mostly launched by people looking to recover debts, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
Loc told the paper her family is suffering the consequences of her daughter-in-law's gambling debts.
Though her son and his wife have already divorced, Loc's troubles persist.
“It started in June 2013," she said. "My family has been terrorized 20 times by strangers… On the Lunar New’s Year Eve, two glass bottles filled with fermented shrimp paste and feces were thrown into our house.”
She said any time her family filed a petition, the ward police promised to send undercover units to catch the attackers in the act.
“But it’s been more than a year and we’re still living in fear and panic,” she said.
Nguyen Thi Suu on De La Thanh Street in Ba Dinh District told Tuoi Tre that her house has been attacked with fermented shrimp past and paint many times.
The trouble began after a relative borrowed from a loan shark and couldn't repay the debt.
Workers erect construction fencing around the house of Chu Thi Hai Loc in Hanoi after the family suffered numerous improvised missile attacks orchestrated by creditors seeking to recoup the gambling debts of their former daughter-in-law. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
Sua had rented out her ground floor to a wood furniture shop. One day, three young men hurled jars of wet paint over their inventory last week, causing damage of more than VND10 million.
“I cannot afford to compensate them yet. If this persists, I will have to ask the owner to leave.”
The woman said she has sent a complaint to the police, “but I have not received any response.”
H., who runs the wood shop, said many shops on the street have become accidental victims just like her.
She said the attackers usually travel in a group. They scream and shout before throwing dirty things into the shops.
“We have nothing to do with those debts," the furniture vendor said. "I hope the authorities can end this so we can feel secure in our business.”
Another house in an alley in Thanh Xuan District suffered attacks for years after their son couldn't repay a business loan to his neighbors.
The attacks finally ceased, but Le Thi Thang, 69, still recalls them with fright.
“We were tortured every week,” she said.
Once, the attackers locked her door from the outside with a strong lock and it took them a long time to get out.
Thang’s neighbors also recalled her misery.
Nguyen Thi Hai said the attacks began at night but gradually persisted in broad daylight.
“Not a single neighbor dared to intervene as the attackers carried the dirty bombs in one hand and a knife in the other.”
Another neighbor named Hanh said he went past Thang’s house many times and saw the filthy stinking aftermath of several attacks.
Pham Diep Luc, 66, became a victim for blowing the whistle on a neighbor's crime.
Her house on Va Van Dung Street in Dong Da District continuously began being bombarded with handmade missiles loaded with trash, fermented shrimp paste and oil after she publicly opposed a neighbor’s plan to build a house on public land.
Stains remain visible on her walls and doorstep.
Lawyer Phan Thi Lam Hong told Tuoi Tre that dirty bomb attacks are an old crime, one that's only become rampant because authorities failed to add punishments for missile attacks into the penal code.
“Throwing waste into people’s houses is an act of deliberate damage to their health, dignity, and even life," Hong said. “If we stop at cash fines, we allow the criminals to persist.”
But Hanoi police officers said they haven't stopped at cash fines.
Vo Hong Phuong, deputy head of the city's public crime division, said they have ambushed and arrested many such attackers since last year.
“Many of them have been criminally prosecuted," he said. "Others received a cash fine; it depends on the circumstances.”
Phuong said the police will deploy more men to end the attacks.