Suspected Earth Liberation Front arsonist captured after 12 years on the run
An alleged environmental terrorist and 12-year fugitive has finally been snagged by the long arm of the law.
Prosecutors say Joseph Mahmoud Dibee's alleged misdeeds are linked to the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front.
The accusations against Dibee — an American citizen from Seattle — include conspiracy to commit arson to destroy an energy facility, arson of a government building, possession of an unregistered firearm and possession of a destructive device in furtherance of a violent crime.
On July 21, 1997, Dibee and several co-conspirators set fire to the Cavel West meatpacking plant in Redmond, Oregon, according to court documents. Dibee carried the timing devices for an explosive soup of glycerine soap, gasoline and diesel fuel mixed in a blender.
Under the cover of darkness and with loud machinery operating nearby, Dibee drilled holes in the back of a refrigerator unit, poured the gel into those holes and secured them with rags, officials say. The group fled after one of the charges ignited prematurely — but the structure was heavily ablaze by the time a salesman noticed the flames around 4 a.m. The total loss was estimated at $1.2 million.
At a news conference inside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy J. Williams said their motivations were based on "anti-capitalism."
"Extremist groups of this nature engage in this conduct because they have a variety of motivations," he said on Friday, Aug. 10, "that they believe so strongly that they are willing to commit federal crimes to get their message across."
After years on the run, Dibee, now 50, was spotted traveling through South America, where he was likely using aliases and false passports. He was detained during a stop-over in Cuba, though his final destination was believed to be Russia. He was arrested after landing in Oregon on Thursday, Aug. 9. He also faces charges in California and Washington.
"We put out international red notices," explained Federal Bureau of Investigations Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon. "We had information that arrived from that. We rely on the teamwork of our partners."
"Extremist activity does continue in the United States and it spans the gamut," he continued.
Federal law enforcement say Dibee was part of a cell known as the "Family." Members conducted "book club" meetings where they discussed lock-picking, computer security, reconnaissance of targets, and manufacturing of timing devices for bombs.
Dibee and 11 other members of the family were charged with a variety of crimes by a grand jury in 2006. All told, the group is responsible for 40 alleged "pre-planned, organized" criminal acts between 1995 and 2001 that inflicted some $45 million in property damage.
With Dibee now behind bars, only one member of the group remains at large. Josephine Sunshine Overaker — thought to be 43 — was last seen fleeing to Europe in 2001. She speaks fluent Spanish, was born in Canada and was known to be a vegan at the time of her escape. She has worked variously as a midwife, masseuse, firefighter and shepherdess.
She has a distinctive tattoo of a bird on her back and may have "a light facial moustache," according to an FBI wanted poster. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to her capture.
"Whatever the motivation, terrorism is simply unacceptable," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demer in a news release. "This should send a clear message to all other criminals on the run: no matter how long it takes, we will find you and we will bring you to justice."