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Pennslyvania man caught in internet terror sting sentenced for offering aid to Al Qaeda

July 17, 2007

U.S. man convicted of pipeline, energy attack plan

Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:10PM EDT

By Jon Hurdle

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania man was convicted on Friday of plotting to blow up U.S. oil pipelines and energy installations and of attempting to enlist al Qaeda militants on the Internet to help carry out his plan.

A federal jury of six women and six men took a little more than an hour to convict Michael Curtis Reynolds, 49, on those charges and of possessing a hand grenade. He faces a maximum 57 1/2 years in prison.

The government accused Reynolds, from Wilkes-Barre, of scheming to attack the Alaska and Transcontinental pipelines and other energy installations to prompt a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Reynolds' purported plot was uncovered by Shannen Rossmiller, a former Montana magistrate who has been independently tracking extremists on the Internet since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In closing arguments earlier on Friday, defense attorney Joseph O'Brien said Reynolds had been attempting to communicate online with purported Islamist militants to expose them and not because he had any intention of working with them.

"His intent was the same as Rossmiller's," O'Brien told the court before U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik. "He was out there trying to uncover terrorist actions."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gurganus said Reynolds had admitted he told no one of his online contacts with purported militants, who also included an FBI agent posing as an attack plotter.

"He actively offered his services to commit acts of terrorism," said Gurganus, dismissing Reynolds' claim that he intended to trap alleged militants on the Internet. "He really is a person who thought he could make money helping al Qaeda."

Reynolds was arrested on December 5, 2005, at a remote rest stop in Idaho where he had been lured with the promise of cash for his operation.

The divorced father of three who had a succession of jobs in electronics, and once in a paintball field, was "kind of a dreamer, kind of a loner," O'Brien said.

He conceded that Reynold's methods of tracking down alleged militants on the Internet may have been less sophisticated than those used by Rossmiller and the FBI, but "that doesn't mean he's a terrorist."

"There is reasonable doubt as to whether Michael Reynolds did these things with the intent to support terrorist organizations," O'Brien said.

Man accused of trying to help al-Qaida hoped for "instant rebellion"

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania: A man charged with trying to help al-Qaida blow up U.S. energy facilities described in chilling detail a plan to target a natural gas refinery and wrote that it would lead to "instant rebellion" by an American public disgusted over the Iraq war and the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Michael C. Reynolds, 49, faces federal charges of providing material support to terrorists. He was arrested in December 2005 after he tried to meet a purported al-Qaida contact in Idaho.

Prosecutors on Tuesday displayed a series of computer messages between Reynolds and the contact, whom he knew from an Internet message board used by followers of Osama bin Laden. The contact turned out to be a judge who was working for the FBI.

Reynolds, who has pleaded not guilty, maintains that he was working as a private citizen to uncover terrorist plots and that his Internet communications were meant to ensnare a person he thought was a terrorist.

He wrote in one message that he had selected the Williams natural gas refinery in Wyoming, "the largest refinery in the west," as the first target. He said the refinery should be struck on Dec. 24, 2005, when presumably there would be less security.

Prosecutors said Reynolds also sought to target the Transcontinental Pipeline, a natural-gas pipeline that runs from the Gulf Coast to New York and New Jersey; and a Standard Oil refinery in New Jersey that no longer exists.

Reynolds wrote it was an opportune time to strike, citing public disapproval of the Iraq war and President George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina. "The fuel is here ... He'll be roasted on a spit," Reynolds wrote.

FBI agent Mark Seyler, posing as an Islamic extremist, sent Reynolds encouragement. Attacking the United States on behalf of al-Qaida, Seyler wrote, "is of delight to Allah and will be of much benefit to you also."

Reynolds and his contact agreed that he would receive $40,000 to finance the alleged plot. Reynolds provided a shopping list of materials to build a land mine, including stainless steel flasks, shotgun shells, flares, batteries, an alarm clock and stereo wire. He also said he was working on a "15-20 minute timer that is failsafe."

The message traffic shows that Reynolds was worried about getting caught.

"You say I risk little, you are wrong," he wrote. "If I am discovered ... I could get life in prison, perhaps even execution as a traitor."

Prosecutors said Reynolds might have been motivated by money more than ideology because he owed more than $5,000 in child support.

A few hours before his arrest, he wrote to his contact: "I took this job because this government took my family from me. The funds you offer give me my only chance to get them back."

Reynolds was taken into custody at a rural rest stop in Idaho, where his purported al-Qaida contact had told him a satchel full of money would be.

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