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Ecoterror resurfaces with Seattle arsons

The destruction of four luxury homes Monday suggest the involvement of the extremist Earth Liberation Front.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 4, 2008

Ashland, Oregon

In recent years, it seemed as though law-enforcement agencies had finally been able to achieve major breakthroughs against "ecoterrorism" carried out by environmental and animal-rights radicals, much of it in the Pacific Northwest.

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But the arson fires involving several new luxury homes near Seattle Monday indicate that small, self-contained cells of saboteurs continue to plot and carry out attacks in the name of environmental activism, officials say.

"Even though the number of spectacular arsons in the name of ELF [Earth Liberation Front] and ALF [Animal Liberation Front] decreased in the past couple of years, the level of criminal activity carried out on behalf of these movements has not slowed down a bit," says Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism in New York.

"For every successful conviction in an older ELF or ALF attack, there are dozens of new actions being planned and carried out, and not just against property. The deliberate targeting of individuals has become even more widespread and violent."

In this week's attack, four new unoccupied homes in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville were destroyed or damaged. Explosive devices were found along with a sign in which ELF took responsibility.

The "Street of Dreams" development, including large homes listed at more then $1 million, featured environmentally friendly design and construction elements. But critics had complained that the project could damage the nearby stream habitat of endangered chinook salmon.

As recently as 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said attacks by environmental and animal rights extremists were one of the most serious forms of domestic terrorism. Many of these attacks have been linked to a shadowy group calling itself "the family."

Officials count some 1,200 such incidents since "ecoterrorism" became a major concern in the 1990s.

Attacks dating back to 1997 have been directed at US Forest Service ranger stations, wild horse corrals used by the US Bureau of Land Management, a Bonneville Power Administration high-tension power line tower, an SUV dealership, three forest products companies, the University of Washington Horticultural Center, a Colorado ski resort, a horsemeat packing plant, and a police station in Eugene, Ore.

Other targets include the destruction by arson of a large condominium project under construction in San Diego in 2003, and housing and commercial developments in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. Property damage is estimated to have totaled more than $200 million.

A law-enforcement breakthrough in the West came in 2006 when an informant with a recording device resulted in a 65-count indictment against 11 individuals associated with "the family." Evidence included 35 compact discs of recorded conversations and 40,000 pages of transcripts, police reports, and photos.