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RCMP ends search - and Wiebo Ludwig opens his door Add to ...

The day after police officers finished scouring his property, Wiebo Ludwig was acting as gracious host, showing journalists around the homes and outbuildings where investigators searched for evidence related to a string of bomb blasts in nearby British Columbia.

Mr. Ludwig, 68, who presides over a community of about 50 people, congenially pointed out which buildings had been searched first and listed some items that had been collected, including a computer, pens, some documents and even some jack knives belonging to his grandchildren. He also said he'd given police a DNA sample.

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Mr. Ludwig didn't know everything the police were searching for, he said, but "didn't think it was anything indictable."

Ice over melted snow had turned the roads into virtual skating rinks, which Mr. Ludwig navigated as nimbly as he did the conversation, steering away from dangerous topics and staying firmly on steady ground.

Asked why the RCMP said his arrest was related to public safety concerns, Mr. Ludwig - who was convicted and jailed for bombing attacks against the Alberta oil and gas industry in the 1990s - shrugged.

"It doesn't make sense because I can go wherever I like," Mr. Ludwig said Tuesday at his farm near Hythe, Alta. He was arrested Friday and released Saturday without charges. Police obtained a five-day warrant and wrapped up their search of the site on Monday afternoon. "If I'm the dangerous one, what kind of public safety is involved in that?"

A polarizing figure, Mr. Ludwig is known for waging a bitter war against oil and gas companies around his home in rural Alberta and, to some, as a champion for the rights of rural citizens against unchecked industrial development. He has long blamed the proximity of gas pipelines and sour gas leaks to such health concerns as asthma, cancer and fetal development.

Since being released from jail for the Alberta offences in 2001, Mr. Ludwig has to some extent faded into the background, the eccentric leader of a family group organized around religion and principles of self-sufficiency that extend to the women spinning and weaving wool from the farm's well-padded sheep.

But when RCMP arrested Mr. Ludwig in Grande Prairie and obtained a search warrant for his property in connection to half-a-dozen bombings around nearby Dawson Creek, the bearded preacher was thrust back in to the limelight, the prime representative once more of troubles in the Canadian oil patch and a painful reminder of the unsolved murder of a teenaged girl a decade ago.

Karman Willis was shot and killed in June 1999 while riding with other teens on a truck on Mr. Ludwig's property. No one has ever been charged with her murder.

The six B.C. attacks have all targeted facilities operated by EnCana, a Calgary-based producer that's one of the biggest players in B.C.'s booming natural gas sector. The attacks have all taken place near the town of Tomslake.

No one has been injured in the attacks, which have involved wells and pipelines that carry sour gas - natural gas that contains potentially deadly hydrogen sulfide.

The RCMP investigation into the bombings has seen dozens of investigators working for months to crack the case. EnCana has put up a $1-million reward for information in the case.

But on a sunny afternoon when Trickle Creek farm provided a postcard-worthy version of Canadian winter life, Mr. Ludwig appeared unfazed by the latest turn of events.

Instead, he showed visitors around, pointing out a windmill, a solar-heated greenhouse, a home constructed using straw bales and a table where a couple of apple-cheeked children were working on their math lessons.

The RCMP has said it's common to make an arrest in a major investigation without pressing charges. Police also said new evidence has been collected over the past few days and will be forwarded to Crown prosecutors in British Columbia.

Mr. Ludwig and the RCMP have a history. The RCMP used an undercover operation to investigate Mr. Ludwig's role in the Alberta sabotage. This time around, the agency said in October, 2008, Mr. Ludwig was not a suspect.

At various occasions over the past year, Mr. Ludwig said, he met with RCMP to talk about possibly helping in the investigation, perhaps through "profiling" the individual who was responsible for the attacks. Mr. Ludwig also wrote an open letter to the bomber. Then, this past Friday, a meeting with an RCMP officer at a hotel in Grande Prairie turned into his arrest. Mr. Ludwig says he was questioned for 10 hours, grilled about any knowledge of the bombings and told that investigators had DNA evidence against him.

Free once more on his bucolic farm, Mr. Ludwig serenely says the recent focus on him, and the Tomslake bombings, should get people thinking about their dependence on fossil fuels, the collapse of the family unit and the need to seek out better ways of living.

"We're making the case that we are trying to be fossil-fuel free. And we should have some room to do that, rather than being fumigated while we're doing it."

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

 

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