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.