Two women from Washington have been arrested on terrorism charges for attempting to interfere with a railroad crossing using a “shunt.”
According to Fox News, an ‘antifa’ anarchist group has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the area.
Samantha Brooks, 27, and Ellen Reiche, 23, from Bellingham in Washington State, were arrested and charged with “terrorist attack and other violence against a railroad carrier,” and appeared in federal court on Monday.
In the criminal complaint, Brooks and Reiche allegedly attempted to use a “shunt” on railroad tracks. These shunts are made of wire and magnets, and are placed across the tracks.
The tool is meant to interfere with the electrical signals used by trains for things like braking, and could cause derailment.
Brooks and Reiche were caught last Saturday near a railroad crossing in Bellingham. After being detained for trespassing, officers discovered that they had equipment that would have been used to create a shunt.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of shunts on railroad tracks in Washington since January this year.
“On ten occasions, shunts were placed in areas that disrupt the crossing guards where the tracks cross streets, so vehicles could have tried to cross the tracks unaware of the oncoming train,” the press release read, demonstrating just how dangerous the shunts are:
On the night of October 11, 2020, multiple shunts were placed in three different locations in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The shunts triggered an automatic breaking system on a train that was transporting hazardous and combustible material. The emergency breaking then caused a portion of the train to decouple from the engine. Decoupling has the potential to cause a derailment – in this case – of tanker cars of flammable gas in a residential area.
“Since January there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties – causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic breaking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals,” said U.S. Attorney Brian Moran.
“These crimes endanger our community. I commend the agents from Customs and Border Protection, FBI, BNSF Police, and state and local partners who prioritized stopping this criminal conduct,” Moran continued.
Following the first shunt incidents in January, an anarchist website, It’s Going Down, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“This claim of responsibility stated that the shunting activity was carried out in solidarity with Native American tribes in Canada seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia, and with the express goal of disrupting BNSF operations and supplies for the pipeline,” the criminal complaint reads.
A sticker on the back of Brooks and Reiche’s car showing the US read “indigenous land,” suggesting they are linked to the group or at least sympathetic to the movement.
If convicted, Brooks and Reiche face sentences of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, terrorism offenses against a railroad disqualify an offender from earning time credits during their sentence.
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