Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Ecoterror seen in US arson spree

`TOTAL LIBERATION TOUR' The Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are offering a tour of festive legal rallies, but destructive incidents could be related


Federal officials say they are worried about a spike in ecoterrorism in Utah after arson damaged a Brigham Young University building, the latest in a string of incidents in which authorities suspect activists.

The letters ALF, thought to stand for the Animal Liberation Front, were spray-painted at several sites near Thursday's fire in Provo, 70km southeast of Salt Lake City. The ALF has not claimed responsibility, and did not immediately respond to an e-mail Friday seeking comment.

The fire came after at least two other incidents in which animals were released and aquarium experiments were damaged at BYU in the last six weeks. The same initials were spray-painted at the horse barn.

The ALF's sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front, took responsibility last month for the $1.5 million fire at a suburban lumberyard.

"We see more of a trend to the use of arson," said Ray Mey, who supervises the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. "We're concerned about the loss of life," he said.

The increase in activity, Mey said, might be tied to the July 15 stop in Salt Lake City of the Total Liberation Tour, which will feature top ELF and ALF leaders. The rally will feature speakers, presentations and music.

Thursday's fire was in two small areas of a materials-handling building at BYU's Ellsworth Farm. It was adjacent to an animal sciences building but used by grounds crews.

``I think they chose this location since it was [as] far away from the animals as possible,'' BYU Police Captain Michael Harroun said.

Damage was limited to a corner of the building where bundles of recycled cardboard were stored and to a stall where two small tractors also were set on fire.

Fire damage was initially thought to be about US$30,000, but may be higher if the heat from the blaze damaged the building's structure, said Harroun.

``We're definitely grateful it wasn't worse than what it could have been,'' he said.

The ELF claimed responsibility for the lumberyard fire in a June fax to local media.

The group said it targeted the lumberyard because it ignored warnings to repair forklifts that emit ``far more pollutants than average diesel engines.'' At the site of the fire, the initials ``ELF'' were spray-painted on a building at the lumberyard and a truck.

The FBI later seized a fax machine from a University of Utah health clinic it says was used to announce a claim of responsibility for the fire. The fax has not provided any valuable forensic evidence, but the investigation continued.

Last month's fax also listed four other businesses in the greater Salt Lake area as future targets, including a sport utility vehicle dealership, two other lumberyards and Kennecott Utah Copper. All have increased security, as has the University of Utah, and there have been no subsequent acts of vandalism.

The ELF, which defends its actions as efforts to stop companies from profiting from environmental exploitation, has caused more than US$100 million in damage since 1996, according to the FBI.

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