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Animal group claims it set fire to Idaho fur store

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Animal rights activists claimed responsibility on Monday for a fire that caused $100,000 in damage to a Boise-area store that sells fur coats and fireworks, authorities said.

No one was injured in the early morning blaze at Rocky Mountain Fur & Fireworks, a retailer in Caldwell, Idaho, about 30 miles northwest of the state capital.

The North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which says it conveys messages for unnamed animal advocates, distributed a statement from a group calling itself the "arson unit" that said it set fire to a store stocked with "chemically treated skins of thousands of tortured animals".

"By oppressing innocent life, you've lost your rights. We've come to take you down a notch. Stay in business and we'll be back," the unit said.

Investigators were taking the arson claim seriously, and it was one of several leads in the case, said Mark Leiser, assistant special agent in charge of the Seattle Field Division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Leiser said evidence collected at the fur shop by the bureau, the FBI and the Canyon County Sheriff's Office in Idaho would be thoroughly analyzed "before we can make a determination of the veracity of the statement."

A woman who answered the phone at Rocky Mountain Fur & Fireworks, which bills itself as a full-service fur company selling "luxurious fur coats" from chinchilla, mink, rabbit or fox, declined to comment except to say: "We're all OK."

Jerry Vlasak, spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, said the arson unit may refer to a branch of the Animal Liberation Front, an underground group of animal activists who promote economic sabotage.

"It has proven effective: Fur stores have closed, fur breeders have closed," Vlasak said, adding that the press office was supportive but not affiliated with the organization behind the claimed arson, the first action of its kind in Idaho.

The press office said on its website it was founded "to communicate the actions, strategies, and philosophy of the animal liberation movement to the media and the public," adding that many of those actions were illegal.

A first offense on a federal arson charge stemming from the destruction of property and involving interstate commerce carries a prison sentence of at least 10 years.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)

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