FBI searches for last four ELF fugitives

FBI agents are soliciting help worldwide in their attempt to find the final four fugitives facing eco-terrorism charges stemming from Earth Liberation Front firebombings in the Pacific Northwest, including Medford and Glendale.

The agency is offering rewards of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of two men and two women who were part of the ELF "Family," whose 25 arsons in five states caused $48 million in damage and earned them the moniker of domestic terrorists.

Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms made their pitch to international media Wednesday in Washington, D.C., hoping this new and worldwide spotlight might glare on fugitives likely hiding outside the United States.

"They've been gone for quite a while," said FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele in Portland. "There is hope that increased rewards and publicity in the international media will bring them back."

The four were identified as: Rebecca Rubin, 38, who was believed to be in Canada; Josephine Sunshine Overaker, 34, who the FBI said could be working as a firefighter or a masseuse; Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, 41, who may have fled to Syria; and Justin Franchi Solondz, 29, who could be traveling in Canada, Europe or Asia.

"We have some idea where they've been or may be, but we can't get into specific information," Steele said Wednesday.

In all, 17 people have been indicted through the FBI's Operation Backfire investigation, with 13 of them pleading guilty and receiving federal prison sentences.

Those include Greensprings resident Jonathan Paul, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years, three months in federal prison in June 2007.

Paul remained in custody at the Federal Correctional Institution in Phoenix, Ariz., according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The four remaining fugitives were indicted in 2006 on arson and conspiracy charges for their alleged roles in the string of arsons that ran from 1996 to 2001.

Those included the firebombing of the Superior Lumber Co. mill in Glendale in January 2001 and the 1997 firebombing of the U.S. Forest Industries office on Whittle Avenue in Medford.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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