From the Chicago Tribune:

"Chicago Tribune
February 4, 2003 Tuesday,
Trib West; Pg. 1; ZONE: D

Lobster firm fleet vandalized;
Animal-rights group suspected; FBI is called in

By Virginia Groark and Jon Yates, Tribune staff reporters.

Lines to brakes and refrigeration systems on a fleet of Villa Park seafood company trucks were cut over the weekend, damage the FBI is investigating as the act of a radical animal rights group opposed to the killing of sea creatures.

Vandals entered an unsecured lot on the 200 block of North Avenue and cuT the lines on dozens of Supreme Lobster and Seafood Co. trucks. They also wrote "ALF--No Brakes" on a bay door of a company building. Investigators believe ALF stands for the Animal Liberation Front, a loose group of animal rights activists whom the FBI considers active domestic terrorists.

According to an anonymous e-mail sent to the Tribune, members also called themselves the "Groundhog Crew" because they claimed to have damaged the trucks early Sunday, which was Groundhog Day.

In the e-mail titled "ALF Communique," the group alleged the Midwest's largest lobster distributor was responsible for the deaths of more than 1 billion sea creatures over the last 25 years.

"Their lives cannot be returned, but we will continue to strike at them until future generations are truly free," the e-mail stated.

"Didn't know groundhogs were such fans of sea creatures, did you?" the group asked.

Company officials discovered the damage to 48 trucks early Monday when a driver got into one of the trucks, according to a company official who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

"He pulled the truck out and goes to hit the brakes, and he had no brakes," the company official said. The truck came to a stop before leaving the parking lot and did not hit anything or anyone, according to police and company officials.

When employees realized the truck's brake line had been cut, they checked other trucks in the fleet and found more damage, said Villa Park Police Detective John Szkolka.

"It kept snowballing and snowballing, and that's when they called us," said Szkolka, whose department was notified around 5:30 a.m.

After learning that ALF may be involved, police contacted the FBI, which joined the investigation Monday afternoon.

"We are investigating this as a possible act of domestic terrorism," said Ross Rice, spokesman for the FBI in Chicago.

The company was able to lease trucks and conduct business, although some deliveries were a few hours late, the company official said. Police did not have an exact estimate of damages, but the company official said it was in the "tens of thousands."

Supreme Lobster, a 29-year-old family business, imports and distributes fresh and frozen seafood from around the world to more than 5,000 restaurants, supermarkets, retail outlets and hospitality institutions in the Chicago area. The company's territory also includes Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, according to its Web site.

Rice said cutting the brake lines of so many trucks could have had a "near catastrophic effect." His office has made no arrests and filed no charges.

"At this point it would be premature to say the [ALF's] claim of responsibility is accurate," he added.

ALF officials could not be reached for comment. The group's spokesman, David Barbarash of Vancouver, British Columbia, stepped down last month, saying the media focused too much on him and not on the group's message. His phone has been disconnected.

Though ALF is alleged to have committed other acts in the Midwest, including releasing 1,200 minks from a Waverly, Iowa, ranch, Sunday's incident shocked officials in the seafood industry.

"There have been groups that have tried to liberate lobsters and put them back into the ocean," said Sue Barber, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council in Bangor. "But I have never heard of brake lines being cut. And that's kind of frightening because if someone got into that truck and drove, you are putting humans at risk."

Experts said ALF has little structure and no apparent leadership, with independent cells across the country and in Europe that vandalize animal farms and other facilities. A Web site says the group's goal is, in part, to "inflict economic damages to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals," and "reveal the horror and atrocities committed
against animals."

In recent years, ALF has claimed responsibility for releasing foxes from a ranch in Pennsylvania, stealing dogs from an Italian research facility and setting fire to a truck outside a poultry plant in Indiana.

Other animal rights groups do not agree with their tactics. Steve Hindi, head of Geneva-based Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, said vandalism can do more harm than good for the animal rights movement.

"That kind of thing is just not the answer," he said. "If it is animal rights people, it's profoundly frustrating when that happens."

Tracing ALF can be challenging. The group tends to work at night and has been difficult to prosecute.

Richard TeKippe, former lead prosecutor in Chickasaw County, Iowa, said ALF claimed responsibility for freeing minks from a farm two years ago, but no one was arrested.

"Some organization issued a statement saying they were responsible for it, but you can't prosecute based on that," he said. "We were never able to identify any witnesses."