FBI agents in Sacramento arrested three suspected Earth Liberation Front members Friday in connection with an alleged plot to blow up U.S. Forest Service facilities, cellular phone towers and power-generating stations at various locations in Northern California.
The arrests in the Sierra foothill city of Auburn, about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento, capped a terrorism investigation that began nearly a year ago, authorities said.
Taken into custody were Eric Taylor McDavid, 28, of Foresthill, near Auburn; Zachary Jensen, 20, of Monroe, Wash.; and Lauren Weiner, 20, of Philadelphia. All three were in federal custody pending a court appearance Tuesday, authorities said. They could not be reached for comment, and it was not immediately clear who would legally represent them.
Although the FBI and U.S. attorney's office declined to provide details about the alleged evidence against the three, FBI officials said they believe their investigation foiled possible attacks on a number of sites they would not specify.
"We did prevent some violent acts; I am sure of that," said Dave Picard, assistant special agent in charge of the bureau's Sacramento office. "These people could have done a lot of harm to people and property."
At the same time, Picard and other officials emphasized that they had nothing to indicate there was any imminent danger to the public.
The three were arrested without incident about 11 a.m. as they left a store in an Auburn mall. An FBI SWAT team and at least a dozen state and local police were waiting for the suspects after conducting surveillance, authorities said.
The long-term investigation, coordinated by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force and including the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, began not long after Sacramento-area attacks blamed on environmental extremists.
Just days after Christmas 2004, construction workers found explosive devices at three new houses in Lincoln, about 10 miles west of Auburn.
Two weeks later, authorities were investigating an attempted arson, involving five incendiary devices, at a commercial building under construction in Auburn.
Last February, seven devices were discovered after a brief fire at a 100-unit apartment complex in Sutter Creek, southeast of Sacramento, and a firebomb was found outside the Placer County Courthouse in Auburn.
The FBI later arrested four people in connection with the incidents, and three of them have pleaded guilty.
Although last year's incidents and the recent case have been blamed on the Earth Liberation Front, authorities said that their investigation is continuing and that they have not yet found any links between the latest alleged plot and the arson incidents a year ago.