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Eco-terrorists, too, may soon be on the run

Congress considers new penalties against pro-environment violence out West.

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It may be the wartime mood, but lawmakers and law-enforcement agencies around the country are hot on the trail of terrorists.

Not the kind who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September, but those who - in the name of animal rights and environmental protection - attack logging trucks, slaughterhouses, fur farms, and university research facilities.

Congress is working on legislation that would stiffen penalties and bring such crimes under federal racketeering laws. The FBI is deploying more agents to fight "ecoterrorists." Government land managers are stepping up security.

For the most part, crimes in the name of animals or the environment are carried out by small cells of individuals associated with a shadowy pair of apparently related groups that have no leaders or organizational structure: the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). There have been a few arrests in recent years, but the perpetrators seem to be as elusive as Osama bin Laden.

FBI counterterrorism chief James Jarboe told a House Committee this week that the ALF/ELF have committed more than 600 criminal acts in the US since 1996, resulting in more than $43 million in damages.

ELF's website boasts of "direct actions" on behalf of "animal liberation" and "earth liberation" and against genetic research and engineering - 137 illegal acts in 2001 alone. Among the most recent: A fire at a new University of Minnesota's Microbial and Plant Genomics Research Center in St. Paul and tree spikings in the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho.

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