Three held over animal rights blackmail plot

Three people were arrested yesterday in Britain and the Netherlands over an investigation into an international blackmail plot by animal rights activists linked to arson attacks.

Counter-terrorism officers arrested a woman, aged 50, in Croydon in connection with the alleged blackmail plot against an unspecified UK target. A Dutchman and a British woman, both aged 25, were arrested in Amsterdam in connection with the plot.

The number of violent animal rights attacks in Britain has significantly gone down following the introduction of new laws and the jailing of 12 people in 2009 and 2010 involved in a campaign of intimidation to try to close the research centre Huntingdon Life Sciences. Activists sent leaflets to neighbours of company directors claiming they were paedophiles and others received tampons in the post with blood supposedly HIV positive.

Researchers warned that extremist tactics based on the UK model were being exported to Europe after a series of arson attacks on biomedical research centres in Holland, Belgium and Spain in 2008. Activists moved to Europe to escape strict British law enforcement, said researchers.

"The worst of the violence is over in the UK because of the ability to send people to prison for long sentences," said David Pruce, chief executive of Understanding Animal Research. "What we are seeing is links between extremists all over the world."

People yesterday carried out searches at both homes and two business addresses in Croydon and Amsterdam.

The British authorities are seeking the extradition of the pair arrested in Holland, said Wim de Bruin, of the Dutch national public prosecutor's office. Scotland Yard said that the operation was its most significant against animal rights extremists for some time and had investigated a number of criminal activities including arson.

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