CHICAGO (AP) _ An animal-rights group claimed responsibility Friday for a pre-dawn fire that erupted in a food store that illegally sold leopard and tiger meat.

The fire Friday morning came less than a day after a man was convicted of illegally slaughtering tigers and leopards and selling the meat to Czimer's Market for $3 a pound.

FBI spokesman Ross Rice said a group called the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the fire, which authorities consider an act of domestic terrorism.

The fire was confined to a back meat-cutting room at the suburban Lockport store, which specializes in providing customers with exotic fare.

On Thursday, a federal jury found William Kapp, 37, a county corrections officer and taxidermist, guilty of violating the Endangered Species Act and other offenses for transporting, selling and killing tigers and leopards that are protected by law.

He faces 2 1/2 years or more in federal prison at sentencing.

The trial focused on a ring operating in Michigan, Illinois and Missouri that illegally killed and sold tigers and leopards for mounted trophies, rugs and exotic food.

Fifteen ring members, including market operator Richard Czimer Jr., pleaded guilty to charges resulting from a 4 1/2-year investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His sentencing is set for June 27. The corporation that owns the market also pleaded guilty.

Within hours of the fire, the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune received identical e-mails taking responsibility for the fire, Rice said.

A copy of the communique provided by the Sun-Times referred to the Kapp trial.

``These helpless animals were shot (murdered) in cages at point blank,'' it said. ``Be careful, because we know who you are and where you live.''

Rice said the Animal Liberation Front is responsible for 600 acts of vandalism nationwide since 1996 and officials believe there is a cell in Chicago.