Nov. 19, 2008 -- The FBI has increased its reward for four alleged domestic terrorists wanted for the 1998 torching of a lodge in Vail, Colo., and a series of other eco-terrorism acts in the United States.
The four were members of a cell believed to be connected to the extremist groups Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have increased the reward to as much as $50,000 for Josephine Sunshine Overaker, Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, Justin Franchi Solondz and Rebecca Rubin, who are all believed to be living outside the United States.
"From 1996 to 2001, these individuals participated in a cell of approximately 20 individuals that were known as 'the family.' They conducted a range of criminal actions through the western United States in the name of the Animal Liberation Front," Michael Ward, FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, said at a press conference in Washington.
"This cell was responsible for at least 25 domestic terrorism criminal actions totaling more than $48 million in damages," Ward said.
The FBI has tied members of the group to the only Y2K-related domestic terrorism action, the sabotaging of a high-voltage power transmission tower outside Bend, Ore., in 1999.
The four fugitives are wanted as part of the FBI's ongoing effort, called Operation Backfire, which has targeted eco-terrorism criminal activities such as arson, attempted arsons, vandalism and animal releases.
"The crimes perpetrated by ALF and ELF have proved violent and potentially deadly, as the criminals use sophisticated incendiary devices -- pipe bombs, tactics. As these fugitives are still on the run, law enforcement must remain aggressive in our pursuit," said ATF Deputy Assistant Director William McMahon.
In January 2006, the Justice Department charged 11 people, including Overaker, Dibee and Rubin, with acts of domestic terrorism carried out on behalf of the ALF and ELF. The 65-count indictment alleged the defendants committed acts of domestic terrorism between 1996 and 2001 in Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, California, and Colorado.
In addition to the fugitives, one suspect committed suicide while in custody; the others indicted at that time have all pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against them and sentenced to prison time.
Solondz was indicted several months later.
Dibee is believed to have fled to Syria after receiving a grand jury subpoena in the investigation. Authorities believe Overaker fled to Spain and Rubin to Canada. Justin Solondz is believed to be living in either China or India.
According to the FBI, the Earth Liberation Front's attacks are responsible for damages totaling more than $80 million since the mid-1990s. The fire at Vail caused $12 million in damages.