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FBI probes bomb claim

Animal rights extremists say they planted a device under the car of a UCLA doctor conducting primate research.

June 29, 2007|Larry Gordon | Times Staff Writer

The FBI and the Los Angeles Fire Department are investigating an anonymous claim that animal rights extremists placed an unexploded incendiary device found under the car of a prominent UCLA eye doctor last weekend. The incident was similar to one last year in which another UCLA researcher was the intended target.

A gasoline-filled device was discovered Sunday by the car outside the Westside home of Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum, who is chief of pediatric ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute. The device did not ignite despite evidence of an attempt to light it, authorities said Thursday.

An e-mail on Wednesday signed by the Animal Liberation Brigade said the group put the device there to stop experiments on animals in Rosenbaum's laboratory. The message claimed a gallon of fuel was set alight under the vehicle, but authorities said there was no fire.

Rosenbaum, who has worked at UCLA for 35 years, declined to comment Thursday.

According to the National Institutes of Health, his lab received federal funding to, among other things, test tiny implanted electrodes on monkeys to correct severe cross-eyed conditions. UCLA reported that Rosenbaum's team has used only one primate for "vision training" and that the lab meets all federal rules for humane treatment.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said investigators are treating the car incident as a case of "domestic terrorism."

The FBI and arson investigators in the Los Angeles Fire Department also will look for possible links to an attempted and still unsolved firebombing a year ago in which an explosive was lighted but did not ignite outside the Bel-Air house of an elderly woman.

In that incident, the house apparently was targeted by mistake and was not the residence of the intended victim, another UCLA professor denounced by animal rights extremists. UCLA and the FBI are offering a $60,000 reward leading to an arrest and conviction in last year's case.

In a statement issued Thursday, UCLA's acting chancellor, Norman Abrams, condemned the weekend incident as part of a campaign of "criminal and deplorable tactics" against faculty and researchers. Among other things, faculty members have received threatening phone calls and e-mails, he said.

"UCLA remains steadfast in its commitment to the lawful use of laboratory animals in research for the benefit of society," Abrams said. The use of animals in such research is tightly regulated and has led to the development of lifesaving medicines and procedures, he stressed.

Rosenbaum earlier this month helped diagnose a serious right eye deformity in the infant son of the Anaheim Ducks' star goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The child underwent a four-hour surgery June 12, led by UCLA retina expert Steven Schwartz, who was hopeful for a positive outcome.

A Woodland Hills-based group called the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, or NAALPO, alerted reporters to the anonymous claim signed by the Animal Liberation Brigade concerning Rosenbaum's car. NAALPO said it had nothing to do with the incendiary device and does not know who was responsible.

However, NAALPO spokesman Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon, said he agreed ideologically with such violent tactics against anyone leading painful experiments, particularly on primates. When peaceful protests don't work, "we certainly advocate taking it to the next level," he said.

Vlasak's Agoura Hills home was raided and searched last year by Santa Monica police and the FBI as part of a probe into activities of animal liberation groups. No criminal charges have been filed against Vlasak as a result of that search, officials said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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