Eco-Terrorism Hits Phoenix

fire arizonia CBS

It was going to be a million-dollar home. Instead, it became the target of an arson campaign being waged on builders, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara. Eleven fires have been set, so far.

"We haven't seen anything quite like this. This is unique to us here," admits Bob Kahn, the Deputy Fire Chief of the Phoenix Fire Department.

In every case, the arsons have been aimed at expensive, unoccupied, nearly-finished houses.

David Birk, a Phoenix resident says, "Everybody is scared and that's really unfortunate because life should not be that way."

Investigators say the houses were burned because they were built too close to the Mountain Preserves, rugged remnants of what Phoenix was before urban sprawl swallowed open land - at the rate of an acre an hour. And the people whose houses burned now say they've lost a sense of safety and want their identities hidden.

When asked if he thought this was terrorism, one Phoenix resident said, "Sure. Yes. He's just trying to put fear into people to stop building, urban terrorism, sure."

An FBI-led arson task-force won't talk about the case or whether Phoenix has become the latest front in the war between radical environmentalists and land developers.

Tracking Ecoterrorists
Click here to read a 60 Minutes report on the FBI's attempt to infiltrate the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). The FBI estimates the ELF has destroyed $37 million worth of property over four years.
In cryptic messages, a self-proclaimed Phoenix arsonist says he is not part of, but is sympathetic to, the Earth Liberation Front and its campaign of arson and economic sabotage against targets including timber companies in the Northwest, Colorado's Vail Ski Resort, and housing developments in New York.

A $70,000 reward has been offered to bring the Phoenix arsonist in. But if this really is arson in the name of the environment, then the arsonist is not without sympathizers here.

"I support the aim but not the technique," admits Randall Amster, an instructor at Arizona State University. Amster says the desert spaces where people can run and hike are fewer than ever and he knows the frustration. "Burning down houses is not going to solve the problem, but it may spark a discussion that could lead to some sort of workable slution."

So far, all 11 fires here have been set under cover of darkness. With each nightfall that comes to the desert now, the burning question rises - will an arsonist strike again tonight?


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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