SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania man who sympathized with al Qaeda plotted to blow up U.S. energy installations in a bid to drive up gas prices and prompt a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, prosecutors alleged on Monday.
Defendant Michael Curtis Reynolds believed gasoline prices could hit “astronomical” levels if he succeeded in attacking the Alaska pipeline or the Transcontinental Pipeline connecting the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Northeast, a jury heard in federal court.
Reynolds, 49, of Wilkes-Barre, faces six charges including attempting to support al Qaeda, plotting to damage an interstate pipeline, distributing instructions on making explosives over the Internet, and possession of hand grenades.
Reynolds is a divorced father of three who has held a series of electronics jobs and once worked at a paintball field. His suspected plans were uncovered by Shannen Rossmiller, a former Montana magistrate and Internet sleuth with a record for tracking down extremists online.
Rossmiller posed as an al Qaeda operative, luring Reynolds to a rest stop on a remote Idaho highway with the promise of $40,000 to finance his plot. He was arrested there by the FBI.
Reynolds’ attorney, Joseph O’Brien, argued that his client had done no harm and was, like Rossmiller, snooping for potential security threats online.
“He was attempting to uncover terrorist activity, to do the job that the government had not been doing,” O’Brien said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gurganus described a series of e-mails between Reynolds and Rossmiller in late 2005 in which Rossmiller, in cooperation with the FBI, learned about his plans to attack major energy facilities.
“Americans will trample Washington to recall troops, and people will make a new government,” Reynolds wrote to Rossmiller in one e-mail, Gurganus told the court.
Rossmiller testified she came into contact with Reynolds through a chatroom named OBLcrew after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“It’s true America has overstepped its bounds in invading Iraq,” said one e-mail purportedly written by Reynolds. “Those serious enough to do something about it should e-mail ...”
Jurors were shown a series of e-mails including one in which Reynolds was said to have called for supplies, including a bus and four propane tanks, to carry out the planned attack.
In one, Reynolds expressed his disillusion with the United States, saying his goal was to “leave this accursed land forever. It is not the land of the free but the home of the new dictators.”