Canadian police release man arrested in bomb probe

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — An anti-energy industry activist arrested in connection with the investigation into a series of pipeline bombings in northeastern British Columbia was released Saturday without being charged, his lawyer said.

Lawyer Paul Moreau said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have not given any reasons for why they released his client, Wiebo Ludwig, after arresting him Friday at a motel in the western Alberta town of Grande Prairie.

“They have declined to explain, at least to me, why they are releasing him without charging him, and it’s going to make for some interesting questions for someone to ask the RCMP,” said Moreau.

RCMP spokesman Inspector Tim Shields would not comment on why police released the suspect, but said discussions continue with prosecutors on possible charges for the man they arrested. Shields would not identify the man because Canadian law prohibits police from identifying a person who has not been charged.

“We are confident we arrested the right person, and we are at the right place,” said Shields, referring to a farm belonging to Ludwig that is being searched.

Officers have another four days left on their warrant to search Ludwig’s farm, Shields said.

Dozens of RCMP officers on Friday swept onto Ludwig’s farm, part of a strict religious commune of about 50 people that Ludwig presides over, near Hythe in northwestern Alberta.

Police, who were combing through homes and outbuildings in the commune, said the search was linked to the investigation into the most recent pipeline bombings in British Columbia.

RCMP Superintendent Lloyd Plante said the residents of the commune are cooperating with police.

Shields refuted allegations the police search was a fishing expedition.

“We had reasonable and probable grounds that an offense had been comitted that would support this search,” he said.

The RCMP’s counter-terrorism unit has been investigating six bombings of EnCana Corp. oil and gas pipelines in British Columbia since October 2008. No one was injured in the attacks which caused only minor disruptions to pipeline operations.

EnCana has offered a $1 million Canadian dollars (US$970,000) award for information leading to the arrest of whoever is behind the bombings.

Moreau indicated at the time of the arrest that his client was being investigated on suspicion of extortion against EnCana, one of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies. Moreau said earlier that he was not sure what is behind the extortion allegation.

The pipeline blasts put a spotlight on local concerns over the rapid growth of the oil and gas industry in the region, particularly projects involving sour gas, which contains the potentially deadly chemical hydrogen sulfide.

Ludwig is well known in Alberta for his opposition to the oil and gas industry. He was sent to prison in 2001 and served two-thirds of a 28-month sentence for his role in earlier gas well bombings in Alberta. Two EnCana gas wells and one owned by Suncor Inc. were hit in 1998, and another blast cratered a road leading to a Norcen Energy well site.

As he was released from jail Saturday, Ludwig said he wanted to go home to be with his family.

“I’ve had quite a grilling,” he told reporters. “I want to go home and connect the dots.”

Police previously had said they did not consider Ludwig a suspect in the latest pipeline bombings. Ludwig wrote what he called an open letter to the bomber last fall appealing for a halt to the attacks.

Moreau said Ludwig was called to a meeting with police Friday morning at a motel in Grande Prairie, where he was immediately placed under arrest.

Ludwig moved to Alberta’s Peace River region in 1985 to insulate his alternative Christian community from what he called the madness of modern life.

Five years later, the oil and gas companies arrived. He spent years trying to raise awareness of property rights around exploration, the environment and the toxic nature of sour gas.