In the United States, a woman who wears a fur coat in public takes the chance of having someone throw paint or blood on the coat. But in Britain, the animal lovers have raised the stakes. Scotland Yard calls some animal-rights advocates "terrorists."

Britain is the home of the most lethal animal-rights activism in the world. So prevalent are the assaults by an underground movement known as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) that New Scotland Yard has a unit devoted strictly to investigating animal-rights violence. Some authorities in the United States and Britain fear that American animal-rights groups may be tempted to take some cues from the ALF.

Officials with the New Scotland Yard Animal Rights National Index operate under such secrecy that the only public information they provide is limited to tips that will help potential targets of violence protect themselves from the ALF. Our associate Scott Sleek investigated animal-rights terrorists in London and found that they are not above planting bombs in fur stores, blowing up the cars of scientists who use animals for medical research and vandalizing butcher shops.

Recent literature put out by the animal-rights network describes the violent acts carried out by ALF throughout England and elsewhere. They include an arson attack on two food company vans, a $40,000 vandalism spree in a sausage factory, a raid on a poultry farm to liberate 82 hens and the firebombing of a greyhound racing track in Northern Ireland. The zealots often leave their mark by painting ALF or "Meat is Murder" at the scene.

If ALF's own boasting can be believed, the group is branching out to the United States. ALF has asserted responsibility for more than 75 attacks in the United States since 1979, including arson and theft. The targets have been scientific research labs. To date, no Americans have died in those attacks, but Glenn Schoen, a monitor of animal-rights violence, has warned Congress that the violence is getting more personal.

For example, in 1988, the head of a U.S. company that did tests of surgical staples in dogs was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt. And last year a university professor's house was burned down by unidentified animal-rights activists.

New Scotland Yard has blamed animal-rights advocates for attacks on research labs, fast-food restaurants and livestock transporters. In one case, a bomb was planted under the car of a man who managed a construction company. His "crime" was that he built research facilities for pharmaceutical companies.

Some Britons who work for research labs live in fear that they will be targeted too. A 1988 burglary at one company led to at least 25 attacks on employees. The burglars stole personnel records and terrorized the employees, their families and even suppliers. Many of the workers resigned and some suppliers stopped doing business with the lab.

The police at New Scotland Yard do their best to track down and bring the terrorists to justice, but they are privately frustrated about some of the lenient sentences the courts hand down.