Earth Liberation Front claims responsibility for UW fire

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The Earth Liberation Front, a self-described "international underground organization," claimed responsibility today for the fire which destroyed the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington.

Fire investigators earlier had announced they suspected the group of causing the fire, and those suspicions were confirmed in a statement faxed to news organizations.

The group, which goes by the acronym ELF, said the fire was set simultaneously with another fire at the Jefferson Poplar Farms in Clatskanie, Ore., and that the two fires did a combined total of $3 million in damages.

"This marks the first time in North American history that the ELF has targeted two separate locations in differing states at the same time," the message said.

The ELF said the UW fire specifically was intended to destroy the office of Toby Bradshaw.

"Bradshaw ... continues to unleash mutant genes into the environment that is certain to cause irreversible harm to forest ecosystems," the ELF said. "As long as universities continue to pursue this reckless 'science,' they run the risk of suffering severe losses. Our message remains clear, we are determined to stop genetic engineering."

The ELF message said the organization has caused more than $40 million in damages in North America since 1997 through arson and other acts.

A telephone call to a number given by the ELF reached only an answering machine.

The arsons are under investigation by several organizations, including the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and local law-enforcement agencies.

In Washington State, the FBI has said it is investigating more than a half-dozen arson and vandalism cases during the past four years for possible links to the radical movement. The list is even longer in Oregon, where the ELF has its North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office, which sent the faxes messages.

That office is run by a 29-year-old vegan baker named Craig Rosebraugh, who operates what he describes as "a legal, above-ground news service dedicated to exposing the political and social motives behind the covert direct actions of the underground Earth Liberation Front."

Rosebraugh has been subpoenaed to testify before a Portland grand jury but says he has no active involvement, or foreknowledge, of any arsons. He says he does approve of arson as a protest tactic. "If you have someone who may be destroying the planet, it's only sensible to go in and burn the place down," he said.

Despite such incendiary words, not enough evidence has been produced to bring criminal charges in the cases, and no arrests have been made.