For the first time in the nearly 14 years since the costliest eco-terrorism arson in U.S. history, the FBI is offering a reward of up to $25,000 in hopes of shaking out tips that will finally lead to who set a University City housing project ablaze in an act of protest.
No one was injured in the 2003 inferno, but it caused an estimated $50 million in damage and has nipped at the heels of a number of federal investigators who have at one time or another worked on the case.
The FBI will be advertising the reward on billboards and posters to renew public interest in the case.
A loose-knit radical environmental group, the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, immediately took responsibility for the fire, leaving hand-painted messages on bedsheets at the scene and later confirming its involvement on its website and in an email to The San Diego Union-Tribune. But the individuals behind the crime have never been identified.
ELF, with members and cells nationwide, targeted large developments and sought to protect the land from urban sprawl. At 3 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2003, their target was the five-story residential complex, framed and still under construction, between the University Town Centre mall and Interstate 805.
The arsonists left a message behind on bedsheets laid together on the ground: “If you build it — we will burn it. The E.L.F.s are mad.”
About a month later, on Sept. 19, 2003, similar fires burned down four homes under construction in Torrey Highlands and damaged two…
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