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ELF member pleads guilty in firebombings

Joseph Mahmoud Dibee pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court for his role in Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front firebombings across the West Coast in the late 1990s and early 2000s. File/FBI wanted poster
One suspect remains outstanding for eco-terrorism ring that included 1998 Medford bombing

A Seattle man who spent more than a decade on the lam before his 2018 capture in Cuba has pleaded guilty for his role helping the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front bomb commercial and government-owned properties across the Pacific Northwest.

Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, 53, faces a sentence of more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of arson and conspiring to commit arson Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland, admitting to his role in a ring involving at least 12 co-defendants from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.

The eco-terrorism ring caused more than $45 million in destruction across the Pacific Northwest — including in Southern Oregon — between October 1996 and December 2005, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and earlier news reports.

The attacks, according to Mail Tribune archives, included bombings on an SUV dealership in Eugene, a meatpacking plant in Redmond, ranger station buildings in the Willamette National Forest, and attacks in Southern Oregon that included a December 1998 firebombing of the U.S. Forest Service office on Whittle Avenue in Medford and a January 2001 firebombing of a Superior Lumber Company mill in Douglas County.

Dibee reportedly played direct roles in the July 21, 1997 attack on the Cavel West Meat Packing Plant in Redmond and an October 2001 attack near Litchfield, California, on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse Corrals — a government facility used to remove wild horses from public lands — that ultimately destroyed a barn and the contents inside.

Leading up to the latter incident, Dibee and co-conspirators constructed incendiary devices in Seattle before traveling to Northern California, police said. Dibee also helped recruit co-conspirators for the ring, which was known as "The Family,“ according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Dibee and 10 other members of “The Family” were indicted in 2006 following a long-running FBI domestic terrorism investigation known as Operation Backfire. His ELF nickname was “Seattle.”

Dibee, however, fled the country in 2005 and spent more than a decade as an international fugitive.

Cuban authorities captured Dibee at the Havana airport on an Interpol red notice at the behest of U.S. officials in August 2018, as Dibee was reportedly boarding a plane to Russia, according to an earlier news report.

Dibee's guilty plea Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland closes federal cases in the Eastern District of California and the Western District of Washington. He will be sentenced in Oregon July 27.

As terms of a negotiated plea agreement, federal prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 7 years, 3 months in federal prison, and Dibee will agree to pay restitution to his victims.

Kieran Ramsey, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, praised his office and partner agencies for never giving up on the case over past two decades.

“From destroying evidence to fleeing the country, none of Mr. Dibee’s tactics stopped us from making sure he was held accountable for his malicious and destructive actions,” Ramsey stated in the release.

One ELF codefendant remains at large. Josephine Sunshine Overaker, a Canadian citizen believed to be either 47 or 50 years old, is wanted by the FBI on 19 felony charges that include arson, conspiracy to commit arson and destruction of an energy facility. Officials believe Overaker fled to Europe in 2001.

The FBI offers a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to Overaker’s arrest. Anyone with information about Overaker is asked to contact their local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.