Ecoterrorists Blamed in $50M Fire

Associated Press/August 3, 2003
By Seth Hettena

San Diego -- Investigators said Tuesday that arsonists from an environmental terrorist group were to blame for a fire at an apartment complex under construction that caused $50 million in damage.

The Earth Liberation Front, linked to arson incidents across the West, claimed responsibility for setting fire to the five-story apartment complex Friday in San Diego.

A 12-foot banner found at the scene read: "If you build it, we will burn it," along with the initials ELF. The group, which only communicates with the news media by e-mail, issued a brief statement saying the banner "is a legitimate claim of responsibility by the Earth Liberation Front."

"The intent was to burn the structure to the ground," said San Diego Fire Capt. Jeffrey A. Carle, an arson investigator who called the fire one of the costliest in city history. He declined to say what was used to start the three-alarm blaze. There were no injuries.

The San Diego arson was said to be the costliest action ever by the ELF, an underground group that since 1996 has claimed responsibility for arson attacks against commercial entities that members say threaten or damage the environment.

"This one fire did more dollar damage than all of the other vandalism they've done put together," said Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, Wash., which tracks ecoterrorism and vandalism.

Arnold said that the ELF's costliest crime had been a 1998 fire that caused $12 million damage at the Vail, Colo., ski resort. The group said it was protesting the resort's expansion into lynx habitat.

The group also claimed responsibility for an arson in June that destroyed two upscale homes under construction in a Detroit suburb.

No arrests have been made, but the FBI's local counterterrorism task force said several suspects were being tracked.

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