Seven explosive devices were found early Monday at a recently opened apartment complex in Sutter Creek, southeast of Sacramento, in what federal investigators believe is the third local act of eco-terrorism in just over a month.
The devices were found about 3 a.m. when they touched off a brief fire at the 100-unit Pinewoods Apartment Homes. No one was injured in the incident.
Keith Slotter, who heads the Sacramento field office of the FBI, said investigators believed the fire was deliberately set by the group believed responsible for other recent attempted arsons at construction sites outside Sacramento.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the incidents, the FBI believes they were the work of the Earth Liberation Front.
On Dec. 28, construction workers found incendiary devices at three houses being built in the Sacramento suburb of Lincoln. At a fourth house, investigators found graffiti, including the messages "Leave" and "U will pay."
Two weeks later, five explosive devices were found in a commercial building under construction in nearby Auburn. Although no graffiti was found in that Jan. 12 incident, the devices, similar to those found at the Lincoln site, were homemade bombs designed to use flares and clock-like timers to ignite 5-gallon mixtures of gasoline and diesel fuel, authorities said.
They would not disclose what devices were found at the site of Monday's fire. But they said they found graffiti -- including the letters ELF -- suggesting that the explosive devices were placed at the construction site by the group suspected in the earlier incidents.
"We think it is the same group responsible," Slotter said. "Whether it is the exact same individuals is anyone's guess."
No one has been injured in the incidents, but Slotter said the string of events had become the top-priority case for the Sacramento area's Joint Terrorism Task Force.
"This is terrorism, plain and simple," Slotter said. "When people think of terrorism, they think of international incidents or Al Qaeda. But domestic terrorism can be just as dangerous. And even if someone's target is property, not people, there is always the possibility of someone getting injured or killed."
After Monday's fire, Slotter announced that the FBI would offer a reward of up to $50,000 for the identification, arrest and conviction of those responsible in the three incidents.