PORTLAND, Ore. (CBS SF/AP) — Prosecutors say a former Seattle man wanted in connection with an eco-terrorism conspiracy dating back two decades has been arrested in Cuba.
Cuban authorities detained 50-year-old Joseph Mahmoud Dibee before he boarded a flight for Russia. He pleaded not guilty Friday to federal arson and conspiracy charges in Portland, Oregon.
“More than two decades ago, a loosely affiliated group of environmental extremists set out to express their views using force, violence, sabotage, mass destruction, intimidation, and coercion,” said U.S. Attorney Williams in a prepared release. “Thankfully no innocent lives were taken by these senseless acts.”
According to court documents, federal authorities learned Dibee was traveling through Central America on his way to Russia with a planned stop in Cuba.
With the assistance of the Cuban authorities, particularly the Ministries of the Interior and Exterior, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security including the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations and the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the FBI arranged for Cuban authorities to detain Dibee before he boarded a plane bound for Russia, and return him to the United States. Dibee fled the United States in December 2005.
In 2006, a federal grand jury in Oregon indicted Dibee and 11 coconspirators as part of Operation BACKFIRE, a long-running FBI domestic terrorism investigation. The conspirators, known as “The Family,” have been linked to more than 40 criminal acts ranging from vandalism to arson between 1995 and 2001, causing more than $45 million in damages.
Many of the Dibee’s crimes were linked to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) or the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
The group targeted a horticulture center at the University of Washington; a federally owned wild horse corral in Susanville, California; and a horse slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon, among other properties.
Investigators said Dibee participated in the Susanville and Redmond fires, as well as one at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Olympia, Washington.
One fugitive remains at large from Operation BACKFIRE. Josephine Sunshine Overaker, an American citizen believed to be either 43 or 46 years old, fled to Europe in late 2001.
Overaker faces 19 felony charges including conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to commit arson and destruction of an energy facility, attempted arson, and arson in the District of Oregon, the Western District of Washington, and the District of Colorado.
She speaks fluent Spanish and may seek employment as a firefighter, midwife, sheep tender, or masseuse. The FBI continues to offer a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to her arrest.