$20 million fire tied to eco-terrorists - ‘If you build it — we will burn it,’ says message left at San Diego site


SAN DIEGO, Aug. 4, 2003 — Dozens of investigators on Monday were probing a $20 million arson that appears to be the work of the Earth Liberation Front. If front activists are responsible, it would be the costliest attack ever by environmental extremists.

‘The 1998 ELF-claimed firebombing of the Vail, Colorado, ski resort comes in at a distant second with an estimated $12 million in losses.’

On how San Diego attack compares THE FIRE early Friday leveled a 200-unit condominium complex that was under construction in what had been a scenic canyon with nearby wetlands.

A 12-foot hand-painted banner found on the scene read: “If you build it — we will burn it — the ELF’s are mad.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper reported it had received an e-mail from the ELF claiming responsibility.

“It does look as we progress on that the ELF has taken responsibility,” said FBI special agent Jan Caldwell. “That does put it in the arena of domestic terrorism.”

San Diego’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, an interagency operation of federal and local authorities, was being briefed, Caldwell said. About 100 investigators, including an FBI Evidence Response Team, have been put on the case, she said, and that number could grow.


Damage caused by the arson could hit $30 million, said Lesli Halik, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Stop Eco-Violence, a group that tracks eco-terrorism, said that if ELF activists are behind the arson “the attack would register as the largest eco-terror crime to date.

“The 1998 ELF-claimed firebombing of the Vail, Colo., ski resort comes in at a distant second with an estimated $12 million in losses,” the group said.

ELF activists have claimed responsibility for dozens of fires and other acts in recent years, causing $50 million in damages to the Vail resort, luxury homes, sport utility vehicles and biotech companies testing genetically modified crops.


The San Diego complex was part of a larger project approved by the City Council in late 2000 that included a hotel and offices east of San Diego’s tony La Jolla neighborhood.
Capt. Jeff Carle of the San Diego Fire Department said three construction workers who were sleeping on the site managed to escape unharmed.

Several hundred residents of a building next to the construction site were evacuated as heat from the blaze broke windows and melted plastic blinds in their homes.
Carle said if environmentalists were behind the fire, he didn’t understand their motivation: More trees would be cut down to rebuild the structure.

ELF, like its counterpart, the Animal Liberation Front, appears to be a loosely knit group with no central leadership. Instead statements encourage people to strike out on their own, claiming ELF responsibility.

More recently, another animal rights group, Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, has surfaced in the United States with an in-your-face campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, a testing lab that uses live animals.

Animal activists get more aggressive

MSNBC.com’s Miguel Llanos as well as The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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