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July 2004

Ecoterrorism Probed as Possible Motive for Lumberyard Fire

Salt Lake City, UT— Investigators dug through the charred remains of a lumber yard fire to determine whether ecoterrorism was to blame for the arson that caused $1.5 million in damage. About a dozen investigators from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the West Jordan Fire Department and other agencies combed through the rubble of a storage building at Stock Building Supply to identify the cause of the recent fire.

Officials would not comment on any evidence found but said they were not ruling out the possibility of ecoterrorism since the initials “ELF” were spray painted in green on an adjacent building and truck. The initials stand for Earth Liberation Front, a loose association of militant environmentalists that the FBI says has caused more than $100 million in damage since 1996.
A fax sent to Salt Lake City radio station KSL, with the letters “ELF” at the top, claimed responsibility for the fire and threatened other targets in the Salt Lake area. The fax said the company had ignored warnings to repair its forklifts, which the fax said, “put out far more pollutants than average diesel engines.”

The Associated Press could not verify the document’s authenticity, and an e-mail earlier to the ELF seeking comment was not answered. Other attempts to reach the group’s representatives were unsuccessful.

An ATF official said investigators learned of the fax through the media, but would not comment further. A message left with a manager at Stock Building Supply seeking comment about the group’s claim was not immediately returned. The early-morning fire, which drew about 45 firefighters, followed a recent national warning from the FBI that the ELF was planning possible acts of ecoterrorism in several cities.

The FBI has not named ELF as a suspect but “this is a typical type of modus operandi for them,” said Ray Mey, the agency’s Joint Terrorism Task Force supervisor in Salt Lake City. “The initials are not an indication it is a form of ecoterrorism, although we do acknowledge that group has used that tagging in the past,” said Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the ATF in Phoenix. The group’s sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front, is the FBI’s No. 1 domestic terrorism concern, Mey said. The two groups have been tied to vandalism and arson across the west, especially in California and Oregon, at sport utility vehicle dealerships, construction sites, fur farms and laboratories. The costliest incident to date involved a fire at a San Diego apartment complex under construction that caused $50 million in damage.

The ELF has targeted lumberyards in the past, claiming they contribute to ecological destruction and sprawl. “The west is no stranger to ecoterrorism attacks. Construction companies, construction sites, lumber yards would certainly fall into the purview of these groups’ actions,” Mangan said.

—Source: American Forest & Paper Association

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