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Secret Group Offers Web Terrorism Guide

August 23, 2003|Monte Morin and Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writers

For an organization with a secret membership, the Earth Liberation Front's beliefs, terrorist methods and history of attacks are about as public as a group's can get.

Its Web site offers readers a how-to manual on setting fires, tips for rooting out FBI moles and advice about what not to divulge during police investigations. It also posts a short manifesto and a chronology of firebomb assaults on car dealerships, construction sites, ski areas, laboratories and anything else the group views as a threat to the environment or a symbol of corporate greed.

An offshoot of the radical Animal Liberation Front, the group made its debut in the early 1980s, according to Dan Dzwilewski, the FBI special agent investigating an attack earlier this month on a five-story apartment complex still under construction near UC San Diego.

"They have emerged as a much more serious terrorist threat to us in the U.S. than we anticipated," Dzwilewski said after picking through ashes left in the $50-million loss. "Arson is their most common and most destructive practice. They consistently use incendiary devices with timing mechanisms that have been very effective in causing damage."

The group became most active in the late 1990s and has been responsible for about 600 criminal acts since 1996.

The group claimed responsibility for the fire bombings of sport utility vehicles at a Pennsylvania auto dealership in January, the 1998 torching of four ski lifts and outbuildings at a Vail ski resort in Colorado and the destruction of $2 million worth of luxury homes on Long Island three years ago.

In 2001, then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh told a Senate committee that a statement released by the ELF after the Vail fires claimed they were in retaliation for the resort's planned expansion, which would destroy the last remaining habitat in Colorado for the lynx, the ELF said.

Also in 2001, three teenagers pleaded guilty to arson and conspiracy for the attack on home construction sites in Long Island. James F. Jarboe, then chief of the FBI's domestic terrorism section, said the acts were in sympathy with the ELF movement.

FBI officials have noted the difficulty in shutting down the ELF, in part because of its lack of structure.

"The ELF does not have any sort of physical membership list or meetings you can attend to become involved," the group's Web site states.

Its guidelines, the Web site states, are three:

* "To cause as much damage as possible to a given entity that is profiting off the destruction of the natural environment and life for selfish greed and profit."

* "To educate the public on atrocities committed against the environment and life."

* "To take all necessary precautions against harming life."

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