Joseph Dibee agrees to plead guilty to decades-old charges of environmental extremism

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Dibee was a member of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, which engaged in acts of “domestic terrorism.”

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)

A Washington man who belonged to environmental groups and was accused of activism-motivated attacks in Oregon in the late ‘90s before fleeing the country has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Quinn Harrington said during a Tuesday hearing in the U.S. District Court for Oregon that the plea deal would resolve all of 54-year-old Joseph Mahmoud Dibee’s federal charges in Washington, Oregon and California.

Prosecutors said Dibee was a member of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, which the U.S. Department of Justice held responsible for acts of domestic terrorism. The ELF and ALF caused millions of dollars in damage across five Western states during the 1990s and early 2000s. In all, the federal prosecutors indicted 18 people as part of a conspiracy.

“It’s all incorporated in the plea agreement we have,” Harrington said. As part of the agreement, he said, the Justice Department would dismiss Dibee’s charges in Washington state.

Other terms of the plea were not immediately available. Dibee’s attorney did not return a request for comment, and Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. It is not yet clear what penalties Dibee would face under the plea agreement.

Dibee, one of the last remaining fugitives from the ELF/ALF cases, was arrested by the FBI in Cuba in 2018 after 12 years as an international fugitive living in Syria and Russia, where he worked on large-scale environmental projects.

Federal prosecutors charged Dibee in Oregon with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, and one count of conspiracy to commit arson and destruction of an energy facility. They said he was part of a group of activists that in 1997 burned down Cavel West, a slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon, that processed horses and sold meat in Europe.

Dibee is also accused in a 1998 fire at a USDA facility in Olympia, Washington, and a 2001 fire that burned hay and a pole barn at a Bureau of Land Management facility near Litchfield, California. He faces conspiracy to commit arson, arson of a government building and other charges in those cases.

Dibee, who was on the phone during Tuesday’s hearing, confirmed to U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken that he agreed to a plea. The hearing is set for Monday.

The parties indicated that negotiations had been underway for several weeks, aided by the mediation of former U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Coffin.

Dibee has been in home confinement in Seattle since early last year, where he cared for his elderly father.

Matt Schindler, Dibee’s defense attorney, said at the hearing that negotiating the plea deal has not been easy for his client.

“For him, I think this has been a really challenging, really difficult process,” Schindler said. “It says a lot about who he is as a person that he’s willing to come to this point despite what he’s been through. It’s was a very challenging few weeks.”

Dibee has long contested the government’s characterization of his actions as domestic terrorism.

“In most cases where the government charges terrorism, it’s actually not,” Dibee told OPB in a 2021 interview. “The thing is for me, being an Arab man in the United States, I’m more susceptible, more vulnerable to that accusation. And I recognize that.”

In that interview, Dibee said he was not involved in any organized environmental groups, but acknowledged he had a “confrontational” approach to his beliefs in the ‘90s. He said his approach to environmental causes has changed since then, and he is focused on using technology to help people adapt to the effects of climate change.