- Michael B. Ward
- Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Operation Backfire Press Conference Foreign Press Center
- Washington, D.C.
- November 19, 2008
I want to thank my ATF colleague, Deputy Assistant Director Bill McMahon, for joining me today.
Today, we are asking the public’s assistance to locate and apprehend four domestic terrorism fugitives associated with Operation Backfire. From 1996 to 2001, these individuals participated in a cell of approximately 20 individuals also known as “The Family.” They conducted a range of criminal actions throughout the western United States in the name of the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. Their criminal actions included vandalism, animal releases, arsons, and attempted arsons across Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado.
Specifically, this cell was responsible for at least 25 domestic terrorism criminal actions totaling over $48 million in damages, including the largest eco-related arson in history—a $26 million arson at the Vail Ski Resort in Vail, Colorado. Additionally, the cell committed the only Y2K action in the U.S. when several members sabotaged a BPA High Voltage Tower outside Bend, Oregon.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $50,000 each for information leading to the arrest of the remaining fugitives, including:
1. Josephine Sunshine Overaker has been on the run since 2001. She is charged with two conspiracy violations related to 17 indictments, five counts of arson, one count of attempted arson, and one count of destruction of an energy facility. Original information indicated she was living in Germany under a false passport. She is also fluent in Spanish and may be living in Spain.
2. Joseph Mahmoud Dibee was charged with two conspiracy violations related to 17 indictments and one count of arson. He fled the U.S. after receiving a grand jury subpoena in early 2006 following the initial round of Operation Backfire indictments. Dibee had assistance in fleeing the United States through Mexico. He is reported to have family ties and may be living in Syria.
3. Justin Franchi Solondz is charged with conspiracy to commit arson, arson of a government building, arson of property used in interstate commerce, use and carrying a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence, and making unregistered destructive devices. Solondz was outside of the U.S. when he was indicted and never made his scheduled return trip. He has traveled through Russia, China, and India and may be living in China or India. He may be traveling in Canada, Europe, or Asia.
4. Rebecca Rubin is charged with two conspiracy violations related to 17 indictments and two counts of arson. She has strong family ties to Canada. Rubin has traveled extensively between the U.S. and Canada.
With increased law enforcement pressure associated with this investigation and grand jury evidence, the cell was dismantled in 2001 and the remaining members disbursed. However, until the members are apprehended, their potential for additional domestic terrorism action and destruction remains.
Anyway you look at it, these individuals are terrorists; regardless of their political or social message, their actions were criminal and violated federal laws. Operation Backfire has resulted in the indictment of 17 individuals for ALF/ELF [Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front]-related criminal activities.
Due to the complexity of the issue, the FBI devotes considerable resources to combating criminal activity related to animal rights and environmental extremism. In October, we marked 10 years since the fires were set in Colorado. Eco-terrorism is a significant threat based on the economic damage and widespread nature of the threat. The FBI has remained steadfast in the search for these individuals and is making every effort to locate these fugitives and bring them to justice. To date, animal rights and environmental extremists have been responsible for over 1,800 criminal acts and more than $110 million in damages. We depend on the assistance of our law enforcement partners, who are usually the first line responders for domestic terrorism and fugitive matters such as this.
Detailed description information on these fugitives and their backgrounds are available on the FBI Wanted Posters included in your press packets as well as on the FBI’s website. These fugitives are considered armed and dangerous. If you have information concerning any of these fugitives, please do not take independent action. We ask anyone with information about these individuals or their locations contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.
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