Once was a time when Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaida were the FBI's key anti-terror focus, but no more. A top FBI official has just declared that violence by environmental and animal rights extremists against U.S. drug makers is currently the FBI's top domestic terrorism issue.
John Lewis, FBI deputy assistant director in charge of counterterrorism made the startling claim in his address to some of the 18,000 biotechnology executives gathered in Philadelphia for the biotech industry's annual convention.
Outside, a helicopter hovered overhead the convention center, amid high security preparedness -as scattered handfulls of demonstrators made their way through police cordons.
Nobody seemed to be looking out for middle-eastern types.
"There has been an increase in the use of incendiary devices as well as explosive devices," said the FBI terror chief. The agency has about 150 open cases of arson, bombings and other violent crimes associated with militant environmental and animal rights activists protesting the experimental use of animals in medical research, he said.
Protesters — some dressed as tomatoes and ladybugs — gathered outside the convention center, banging drums and holding signs with slogans that read, "We Are Not Lab Rats" and "Biotech is Biohazard."
There was one moment of high drama, as a police officer collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack on Tuesday near where police had skirmished with protesters. But it turned out the officer was not directly involved in the confrontation.
"I don't think Officer Paris Williams was involved in the scuffle, but anyhow, he saw the scuffle, he went toward the scuffle, he collapsed," Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said outside the hospital. "We're not blaming anybody for what happened," he said.
Nevertheless, in a bid to make themselves look useful, the FBI quickly offered to enhance the video of the collapse to get a better idea of exactly what happened.
No middle-eastern men were thought to be involved.
Officer Williams' death clearly affected the protestors, who expressed their condolences in a statement. Only a few dozen protestors showed up later at the conference gala dinner.
The biotech industry is urging a hardline response to the direct action tactics being used by some who oppose them. Chiron Corp. of Emeryville, Calif., won a restraining order in a California court against a group allegedly involved in much of the activity.
Later this year, following a technical mistrial, six Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) members will again face federal charges that carry maximum penalties of between three and five years, under federal laws which treat their activism as domestic terrorism.
FBI security for the biotech convention in Philadelphia did not reportedly include distributing flyers depicting either Osama Bin Laden or Musab al-Zarqawi. Perhaps America is safe at last from Al-Qaida.
However, this is little reason to relax our collective vigilance. Nor to reduce the counterterrorism budgets of the FBI and/or Dept. of Homeland Security.
If you are approached by someone dressed, for example as a tomato or a cucumber, please contact your local FBI office immediately -giving a full description of the vegetable involved.
by Fintan Dunne
based on news agency and local affiliate reports.