updated 11/21/2005 9:30:10 PM ET 2005-11-22T02:30:10

Federal authorities are investigating a claim that a radical environmental group was responsible for fires that damaged four townhouses in a large-scale subdivision under construction.

Hagerstown Fire Department Chief Gary Hawbaker said the four fires were set early Sunday.

The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail reported Monday it had received an e-mail that claimed the fires were set by the Earth Liberation Front to “warn all developers that the people of the Earth are prepared to defend what remains of the wild and the green.”

The group has been named by the FBI as one of the nation’s top domestic terrorism threats and suspected of causing more than $100 million in damage since 1996. Its members communicate over the Internet and their identities often are unknown even to one another, officials have said.

Messages from The Associated Press to the group’s Web site and to the address of the e-mail sent to the newspaper were not immediately answered.

The FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Justice Department are investigating the case with state and local officials.

The project’s developer, The Rachuba Group of Eldersburg, estimated the fire damage at more than $225,000 at the 930-unit project that is about 30 percent complete.

Hagerstown, a city of 38,000 people, is about 70 miles northwest of the nation’s capital.

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