Manhunt under way in Montana for ex-militia leader

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2011 3:09 AM
Manhunt under way in Montana for ex-militia leader

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A massive manhunt was under way in the remote high country of western Montana on Monday for a former militia leader after a shootout with sheriff's deputies, authorities said.

Montana lawmen said David Burgert, known for his anti-government sentiments, led sheriff's deputies on a 30-mile chase on Sunday before exchanging gunfire with them and fleeing into the rugged mountains southwest of Missoula.

No one was injured in the shootout.

A posse of 65, including the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, the Missoula SWAT team and the FBI, combed through the forested backcountry on Monday as authorities went door-to-door in a mountain development to warn residents about Burgert.

"He is armed and extremely dangerous," Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick told Reuters.

Police have seized two of three vehicles registered to Burgert, including the Jeep Cherokee loaded with rifles that he abandoned Sunday, but suspect he may have stashed another SUV in the Lolo National Forest, Dominick said.

Authorities say they believe Burgert intentionally sparked the confrontation on Sunday with Missoula County deputies and, in advance of the shootout, may have placed caches of food and weapons along his planned escape route.

The western Montana mountains are familiar to Burgert, a skilled outdoorsman and former Marine, Dominick said.

The incident began on Sunday when deputies responded to a report that the operator of a Jeep Cherokee registered to Burgert was driving erratically at a rest stop near Lolo, Montana, Dominick said.

When patrol cars arrived the driver, later identified as Burgert, ran a stop sign as the vehicle turned onto a roadway.

Dominick said officers pursued Burgert for 30 miles before he spun onto a side road near a trailhead. The former militia leader allegedly responded to commands that he surrender by shooting at deputies before disappearing into the forest.

Burgert, who in 2004 was sentenced to seven years in federal prison on weapons charges, once led a Montana group known as Project 7 Militia, which had the avowed aim of warring with the National Guard before overthrowing the government, authorities said.

An FBI report describes Project 7 Militia as a domestic terrorist group whose members were violent extremists targeting law enforcement officers and other government officials.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan)