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Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Animal rights, terror tactics

Animal rights extremists launched more than 1,200 attacks last year - terrorising their victims and causing 2.6m of damage to property. A clampdown has now been promised to thwart such activities.

"Animal liberation is a fierce struggle that demands total commitment. There will be injuries and possibly deaths on both sides. That is sad but certain."

Car attacked by animal rights extremists
There were 1,200 attacks by animal rights groups last year
So wrote Ronnie Lee, founder of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). In the two decades since its birth, the organisation has proved itself more than willing to stand by these words.

St Andrew's University terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson says animal rights now tops the list of causes which prompt violence in the UK. A dubious honour won following the easing of tensions over Northern Ireland.

With 1,200 fire bombings, acts of vandalism and physical attacks last year perpetrated in the name of animal "liberation", the government is planning a clampdown on the extremist groups responsible.

Organised mayhem

The ALF is widely considered to be at the centre of the web of British animal rights terror groups.

Conceived by Mr Lee, an already seasoned hunt saboteur, in 1976, the ALF is thought to be an umbrella for a number of activist cells, many boasting their own nom de guerre.

Incendiary devices
Terror groups are using "more powerful" bombs
Though the Animal Rights Militia (ARM) claims to be a separate organisation, its aims and violent tactics mirror those of the ALF closely enough to prompt commentators to regard this division as false.

Likewise the "Justice Department", which specialises in directly targeting vets, researchers and business people it accuses of animal cruelty, is understood to be a part of the ALF.

The group is thought to count both far-left and far-right activists among its membership. It has also attracted "middle class professionals", according to The Sunday Times.

Urban terrorism

In both its loose structure and tactics the ALF has been likened to a wartime resistance movement. Any detailed examination of the group is notoriously difficult, as the authorities have found out.

While these extremists have indulged in potentially deadly attacks for many years, the police fear that their campaign is moving towards full-blown "urban terrorism".

Although poorly financed and lacking resources, Mr Wilkinson says these extremists have gained bomb-making expertise from manuals and via the internet.

Barry Horne
Arsonist Barry Horne went on hunger strike
Following an attack on a fleet of refrigerated meat lorries in May - in which nine explosive devices were planted - a senior Thames Valley police officer feared an escalation in terror tactics.

"The risk is that someone is going to get seriously hurt as these groups use more powerful devices."

Alongside arson and other attacks on shops, bookmakers, factories, dairies, farms and laboratories, extremists have harassed individuals.

Terror campaign

Oxford academic Professor Colin Blakemore has endured more than many.

The vision scientist, whose work includes experiments on cats, has received two letter bombs, been sent razor blades in the post, had his car damaged and the doors and windows of his home smashed.

On "World Day for Laboratory Animals" in 1997, Mr Blakemore's house was surrounded by 300 activists wearing balaclavas.

Mink
Several thousand mink have been "liberated"
When jailed animal rights arsonist Barry Horne went on hunger strike - demanding a Royal Commission on vivisection - Mr Blakemore's name topped an ARM hit list of targets who would be murdered should Horne die.

Aside from its violence, the ALF has been criticised for its other "misguided" direct actions.

A spate of attacks on mink fur farms, which released thousands of the creatures into the British countryside were called "catastrophic" by the RSPCA. The society feared the voracious mink would decimate local wildlife.

International reach

Already a headache for law-abiding animal rights campaigners, the UK's extremist groups are now proving a national embarrassment.

The Justice Department regularly sends razor blades, reportedly poison-tipped, to targets in the United States.

Mr Wilkinson says the ALF has also given support and advice to like-minded groups which have burgeoned in Canada, Germany, Japan and the US.

Car bombed by animal rights activists
Extremists are using "urban terrorism" tactics
The government will be hoping increased vigilance can curtail these international activities, and hinder the ALF's domestic attacks.

But worryingly, a reporter for The Scotsman newspaper found a former soldier who claimed to have trained Justice Department activists.

"They've got guns from the former Yugoslavia," he said. "And they'd use them."

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