FBI investigating incident as act of domestic terrorism
The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for vandalizing a laboratory in late September at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine where the effects of environmental pollutants on human health are studied.
Computers and research equipment were destroyed and red paint was splashed throughout the laboratory. "ALF" was painted across a glass partition. Mice used as part of the research were housed in another building and were unaffected. None of the research data were lost.
Initial damage costs are estimated to be $200,000 to $300,000.
An e-mail sent to local news media Sept. 24, the day of the incident, stated that members of ALF, a radical animal rights group, were responsible for the attack. The message detailed the destruction to the laboratory while also condemning the use of animals in research.
"These gas chambers subject suffering animals to daily doses of cigarette smoke and industrial pollutants causing pain, suffering, and death," the e-mail stated. "It should be clear that animals do not deserve to be tortured and die in this pointless research."
In an interview with JAVMA, veterinary school Dean Michael G. Groves explained that no lethal gas experiments are conducted at the facility. Rather, mice are exposed to air pollutants, such as secondhand smoke, and then observed to determine the long-term health effects, he said.
The e-mail continued: "The Animal Liberation Front will continue to target animal killers until the day of empathy and compassion replaces cruelty and exploitation."
Ominously, the message identified the researcher overseeing studies of inhalation toxicology at the laboratory, declaring his "time is up."
ALF and its counterpart, the Environmental Liberation Front, are domestic eco-terrorist groups that target perceived abusers of animals and the environment. Research facilities, housing developments, farms, even sport utility vehicles and Humvees, have been vandalized as part of the groups' activities.
Similar to the structure of Al Qaeda, small, autonomous cells constitute the ranks of ALF and ELF. Cell members recount their exploits of releasing captive animals and property damage on the groups' Web sites.
Since 1996, ALF and ELF have claimed responsibility for some 600 criminal acts in the United States, totaling more than $43 million in damages, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The threat posed by eco-terrorists has become so acute that a provision in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 imposes fines and prison sentences on persons convicted of committing or conspiring to commit such acts (see JAVMA, Sept. 15, 2002, page 750).
The veterinary school's inhalation toxicology laboratory is unique, since it is one of only a few such laboratories in the region, according to Dean Groves. The research is considered so important that the veterinary school had received a state grant to expand its studies.
The attack on the laboratory occurred while the facility was being renovated, with construction provided for by the grant. The facility is unmarked and one of several outlying buildings located behind the main veterinary facility.
Although a fence surrounds the outlying buildings, security is concentrated primarily in the main veterinary facility, where dangerous biologic agents are housed.
Investigators were releasing few details about the incident. What is clear is that on the morning of Sept. 24, one or more people accessed the building by climbing a ladder to a crawl space exposed by the renovations. They then entered the laboratory through the ceiling.
The LSU Police Department and FBI are conducting a joint investigation of the vandalism, according to LSU Police Capt. Ricky Adams. Capt. Adams would not comment about whether ALF was, indeed, responsible for the damage to the facility, nor would he confirm that a member of ALF had sent the e-mail.
Dean Groves added that the FBI spent two days at the veterinary school and is treating the incident as an act of domestic terrorism.
Repairs to the laboratory are under way, and the veterinary school was also looking at enhancing security for the outlying buildings.
Because of the importance of the inhalation toxicology research, the repairs and renovation have been put on a fast track, with the goal of getting the laboratory up and running by Nov. 1. "This (attack) is not going to deter us," Dean Groves pledged.