An international animal rights activist group known as the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility Monday night for the vandalism of 12 research labs via an e-mail message sent to their group’s press office in Minneapolis.
A University student who serves as the spokesman for the organization said members took 116 animals from labs in Elliott Hall and the Lions Research Building and brought them to private homes and sanctuaries. He said he did not know the locations of the homes.
Kevin Kjonaas, a political science senior, said he works at the non profit organization along with three other volunteers at a Minneapolis office. He also belongs to the Student Organization for Animal Rights (SOAR), an on-campus group.
He said the office received an anonymous e-mail message Monday that read: “The following animals will never be harmed again at the hands of vivisectors: 27 pigeons, 48 mice, 36 rats and 5 salamanders.”
The University Police, the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI are investigating the burglaries that occurred sometime around 5 a.m. Monday.
University Police Chief Joy Rikala said investigators are following a number of leads but no arrests were pending as of Tuesday.
If the vandals are found, federal charges may be brought forth pursuant to a federal statute on animal terrorism passed in 1992.
University officials said Monday the vandalism will seriously threaten research for cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. According to a report broadcast Tuesday night, University officials estimate the damages to exceed $3.5 million.
The Animal Liberation Front press office serves as the mouthpiece of the organization to promote the actions of members, Kjonaas said. But he did not know who committed the vandalism, because of the anonymous nature of all ALF raids.
Kjonaas, who denies any involvement in the burglaries, said ALF has been active for 25 years. There are no local chapters, but the organization has press offices in Minneapolis, Great Britain and Norway.
Although Kjonaas attends the University, he said he is pleased that the organization targeted research labs on this campus and sent such a strong message through economic destruction.
“I’m extremely elated that this happened,” he said, noting his tax dollars have contributed to what he called inhumane research carried out on animals at the University.
In addition to damaging computers, microscopes and other equipment in the lab, the group’s members said they took researchers’ videos and pictures of experiments conducted on the animals.
Group members claim researchers connected monkeys and other animals to electrodes in order to study neurological behavior, Kjonaas said. He said the treatment is unwarranted and cruel.
The vandals did not take the monkeys because homes could not be found for them on short notice, he said.
Sharad Shanbhag, a graduate student studying brain activity, said many people do not understand the technology used in the research, despite claims about the animal maltreatment.
The electrodes used on the monkeys are also used on humans for Parkinson’s disease research.
“They are very safe,” Shanbhag said. “I think they like to say (the electrodes are cruel) for shock value.”
History of ALF raids
The U.S. Justice Department refers to the Animal Liberation Front as a “loose configuration of small, autonomous ‘cells,’ with no centralized command structure,” according to wire reports.
Members have claimed responsibility for numerous firebombings, raids at research labs and releasing of animals used for medical or commercial purposes around the world.
The first raid ALF took credit for in the United States happened at New York University Medical Center in 1979, when activists set loose five lab animals used for research.
In November 1996, the organization firebombed an Alaskan Fur warehouse in Bloomington, Minn., causing more than $2 million in damages.
Last summer, the group opened pens at a fur farm near Rochester, Minn., freeing more than 2,500 minks. According to wire reports, many of the animals were either caught by neighbors or hit by cars.
Campus activists react
Freeman Wicklund, executive director of the Animal Liberation League and founder of the University’s SOAR organization, said he does not agree with the liberation front’s actions.
“It closes a lot of doors,” Wicklund said. “Hopefully people realize the actions on Monday only represent a small fraction of the animal rights community.”
His organization, often mistaken for ALF, has more than 1,000 members across the country. Wicklund said members of his organization practice Ghandian non-violence protesting methods.
Wicklund started SOAR in 1992 and received a degree in nutrition from the University in 1997.
As an undergraduate, Wicklund fought against the use of dogs in medical research. He also protested University scientists conducting experiments on primates.
Celeste Stover, a biology major, has belonged to SOAR for more than a year. She said activists sometimes resort to extreme actions like Monday’s burglaries to be taken seriously.
“In general, SOAR is open to all forms of animal liberation,” Stover said. “I am in support of (the vandalism), because not all methods work.”
Without sensational protests, Stover said individuals concerned about animal rights are not taken seriously. She said she supports the economic sabotage because it seriously hampers the researchers’ efforts.