The FBI said Sunday that agents conducted weekend raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio and arrested at least three people, and a militia leader in Michigan said the target of at least one of the raids was a Christian militia group.
Federal warrants were sealed, but a federal law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said some of those arrested face gun charges and officials are pursuing other suspects.
FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said there had been activity in two southeast Michigan counties near the Ohio state line. She wouldn't say whether they were tied to the raids in the other states.
FBI spokesman Scott Wilson in Cleveland said agents arrested two people Saturday after raids in two Ohio towns. A third arrest made in northeast Illinois on Sunday stemmed from a raid Saturday just over the border in northwest Indiana, both part of an ongoing investigation led by the FBI in Michigan, according to a statement from agents in Illinois.
George Ponce, 18, who works at a pizzeria next door to a home raided in Hammond, Ind., said he and a few co-workers stepped outside for a break Saturday night and saw a swarm of law enforcement.
"I heard a yell, 'Get back inside!' and saw a squad member pointing a rifle at us," Ponce said. "They told us the bomb squad was going in, sweeping the house looking for bombs."
He said another agent was in the bushes near the house, and law enforcement vehicles were "all over." He estimated that agents took more than two dozen guns from the house.
Michael Lackomar, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, said one of his team leaders got a frantic phone call Saturday evening from members of Hutaree, a Christian militia group, who said their property in southwest Michigan was being raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"They said they were under attack by the ATF and wanted a place to hide," Lackomar said. "My team leader said, 'no thanks.' "
The team leader was cooperating with the FBI on Sunday, Lackomar said. He said SMVM wasn't affiliated with Hutaree, which states on its Web site to be "prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't."
"We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ," the group's Web site said. "Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment.
An e-mail sent to the group by The Associated Press wasn't returned Sunday, and phone numbers for the group's leadership were not immediately available. Berchtold, the FBI spokeswoman in Michigan, said she couldn't confirm if the raids were connected to Hutaree.
Lackomar said none of the raids focused on his group. Lackomar said about eight to 10 members of Hutaree trained with SMVM twice in the past three years. SMVM holds monthly training sessions focusing on survival training and shooting practice, Lackomar said.
In Michigan, police swarmed a rural, wooded property around 7 p.m. Saturday outside Adrian, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit, said Evelyn Reitz, who lives about a half-mile away. She said several police cars, with lights flashing, were still there Sunday evening and 15 to 20 officers were stationed in the area.
Neighbor Jane Cattell said she came home from the movies Saturday night and a helicopter was circling above, its spotlight illuminating her house. She and her sister, Sarah Holtz, wouldn't say who lived in the home but said they knew them from riding their horses past their house.
"They're your average, nice neighbors," Holtz said.
There were rumors about ties to a militia, but Holtz she knew nothing of that from her interaction with them.
One of the raids in Ohio occurred at Bayshore Estates, a trailer park in Sandusky, a small city on Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland, park manager Terry Mills said. Authorities blocked off the street for about an hour Saturday night, he said.
"Needless to say, this has everyone talking," said Mills, 62. "We have a lot of retirees here who don't want all this commotion."
Mills said he didn't know the identity of the person arrested.
FBI agents in Ohio also made an arrest in Huron on Saturday night, Wilson said. No further information would be released until after they appeared in court Monday, he said.