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Suspected Ecoterrorist Arrested
for Major California Arson

Posted: March 18, 2004

A 23-year-old graduate student was arrested in Pasadena on March 9, 2004, in connection with a series of arson and vandalism attacks against California car dealerships that caused over $2 million in damages last August.

William Jensen Cottrell, a physics student at the California Institute of Technology, was arrested at his girlfriend's home and charged with arson and vandalism. Although some ecoterror related arrests have been made in the past year, hundreds of incidents remain unsolved. Cottrell's apprehension is especially significant because arrests in such substantial eco-terror arsons are so rarely made.

According to an FBI affidavit, Cottrell was traced through e-mails he sent to The Los Angeles Times with specific details about the attacks. The Times began receiving the messages after environmental activist Josh Connole was arrested by the FBI in connection with the fires; Connole was later released without charges. In his messages, Cottrell used the alias Tony Marsden and claimed to be a member of the Earth Liberation Front, the most active radical environmentalist group in the U.S.

The attacks occurred at three car dealerships in Arcadia, Duarte and West Covina, and against four privately owned vehicles in Monrovia. The firebombing in West Covina destroyed and damaged approximately 40 Hummers and SUVs, and the slogans "Fat Lazy Americans" and "ELF" were painted on other vehicles.

The Earth Liberation Front, which consists of autonomous underground cells that attack targets they believe exploit the natural environment, has claimed credit for dozens of attacks against car dealerships across the county over the past few years, including attacks in New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

A few weeks before the California attacks, the FBI affidavit states, Cottrell allegedly sent an e-mail to another Caltech student about trying to acquire money for 5,000 bumper stickers that said "My SUV supports terrorism."

The costliest ecoterrorist attack in American history, causing around $50 million in damage, occurred when ELF claimed responsibility for burning down a housing complex under construction in San Diego, California, a few weeks before the car dealership attacks.

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