Portland, Ore. -- Environmental radicals have claimed responsibility for at least five acts of sabotage over the past two months, showing they are not going to let the nation's terrorism scare stand in their way.
Since Sept. 11, they've set fire to a maintenance building at a primate research facility in New Mexico, released minks from an Iowa fur farm twice within a week and firebombed a federal corral for wild horses in Nevada.
The current spree started on Sept. 8, when militants torched a McDonald's restaurant in Tucson, Ariz. Four of the five actions have been claimed by the Animal Liberation Front and one by its sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front.
Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, said it's "pretty unbelievable'' that the groups, considered terrorists themselves by the agency, have continued their sabotage during the nation's terrorism crisis.
"We believe that their methods of intimidation and violence have crossed the line into unacceptable for law enforcement, and they've crossed the line for the majority of Americans,'' she said.
But the spokesman for the two groups, David Barbarash, said Americans' fear of more possible attacks by followers of Osama bin Laden are no reason for the ALF and the ELF to put their own campaign on hold.
"I don't think underground activists have changed the way they think about what they're doing,'' said Barbarash, a former ALF activist who now acts as their spokesman from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"The Sept. 11 attacks were horrific acts, but we also have to remember that the atrocities against the earth continue unabated,'' said Barbarash.
The ALF first surfaced in 1987 and the ELF nine years later. They have claimed responsibility for dozens of acts of sabotage against companies and agencies they say are harming animals and the environment -- including fur farms, research facilities, fast-food restaurants and logging operations.
One of the most notorious operations carried out by the ELF was an October 1998 fire that swept through part of the Vail ski resort in Colorado. The group said it was protesting the resort's expansion into lynx habitat.
The FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce'' the government or the civilian population.
Steele said that definition fits the acts for which ELF and the ALF have claimed responsibility over the years.
But Barbarash argues that militant environmentalists are not terrorists because their aim is not to harm people, but to protect animals and the environment.
ELF and ALF "are acting out of compassion for all life, including human life,'' and can't be likened to terrorists who crash hijacked planes into buildings or spread disease as a weapon, he said.
That doesn't wash with the FBI, or with anti-terrorism expert Gary Perlstein.
"Even if it's a cause you believe in, if you resort to violence, then it is terrorism,'' Perlstein said.
The FBI has an active investigation into the ELF and the ALF. Congress also wants to know more about the two groups. Former ELF spokesman Craig Rosebraugh of Portland has been subpoenaed by a House subcommittee to testify on ecoterrorism. Rosebraugh said he won't cooperate.
Rosebraugh stepped down as spokesman for the ELF about two months ago. His role has been taken over by Barbarash, who previously was spokesman only for the ALF.
Barbarash said the two groups send him anonymous communiques when they want to announce they've carried out an illegal act. Barbarash then relays the information to the news media. The communiques can come by fax, e-mail or phone, he said.
Barbarash served four months in jail for taking part in an ALF action -- the release of cats used in medical research at a Canadian university in 1992. He said he ceased taking part in ALF actions because he lost his anonymity when he was arrested. But that hasn't stopped him from relaying the communiques, or speaking out in favor of their acts.
Barbarash concedes the ALF and ELF run the risk of losing any sympathy for their cause by carrying out illegal acts during the nation's terrorism scare. But he said they don't care.
"Sympathy isn't a factor high on the agenda of ALF and ELF,'' Barbarash said.