Times-Leader : Terror plot suspect’s trial opens

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Terror plot suspect’s trial opens

Michael Curtis Reynolds, formerly of W-B, is accused of offering to help al-Qaida destroy pipelines and refineries.

BONNIE ADAMS Times Leader Correspondent | July 10, 2007

SCRANTON - The Internet sleuth who tipped the FBI about a former Wilkes-Barre man’s alleged terrorist plot to destroy pipelines and refineries testified Monday about the many online messages they exchanged while she posed as an al-Qaida operative.

FBI informant Shannen Rossmiller read from numerous correspondences she exchanged with defendant Michael Curtis Reynolds in which he allegedly sought to be paid for his services. In one, he is alleged to have said, “Let the sheik know my missions have never failed...”

Federal prosecutors on the first day of Reynolds’ trial argued that he thought he was corresponding with an al-Qaida representative as he plotted to disrupt U.S. fuel supplies. They have said Reynolds hoped attacks on the oil industry would disrupt the government, provoke opposition to the war in Iraq, drive up fuel prices and help al-Qaida to terrorize the United States.

Authorities believe Reynolds planned to blow up targets such as the Transcontinental Pipeline, a natural-gas pipeline that runs from the Gulf Coast to New York and New Jersey, as well as the Alaskan pipeline.

In lengthy opening arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganis Jr. told the jury of seven men and seven women that Reynolds was attempting to provide support to the terrorist organization in 2005 before his arrest in Idaho. He said Reynolds planned to help al-Qaida cells he believed to be in Canada and the United States.

According to one e-mail entered as evidence, Reynolds called the United States an “accursed country” and said “it isn’t the land of the free, but the home of the new dictators.”

Defense attorney Joseph O’Brien painted a very different picture of Reynolds, 49, formerly of Scott Street, Wilkes-Barre. He said that while Rossmiller has been heralded as a hero, Reynolds is standing trial.

He described Reynolds as a “patriotic American” who wanted to uncover terrorists in the same manner as Rossmiller was trying to do by using the Internet. O’Brien said the evidence will show that Rossmiller and Reynolds were involved in the same effort to try to draw out those sympathetic to terrorists.

Rossmiller, who worked as a municipal judge in Montana, has previously posed as an al-Qaida operative. She helped federal agents set up a sting that led to the 2004 conviction of a Washington state National Guardsman for attempted espionage.

She testified Monday before federal judge Edwin Kosik in U.S. Middle District Court. Rossmiller, who now works for the Montana Attorney General’s Office, said she became interested in terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks as she recuperated from an injury for 5 weeks at her home in Montana. “It was just profoundly interesting to me,” she said.

Rossmiller said she encountered Reynolds online on the OBLCrew user group, which stands for Osama bin Laden. As she testified, Reynolds rested his chin on his hand and viewed copies of numerous e-mails and other electronic correspondence on a computer screen at the defense table. She said she worked in cooperation with the FBI as she developed an online rapport with Reynolds, whom she said used various e-mail addresses such as “longtermonly2” and sometimes signed his e-mails with the name “Fritz.”

Rossmiller posed as Hamza Ali Osman or “Hani” in her e-mails to Reynolds. She testified that she tried to get details of his plans and that Reynolds often used “code talk” in his e-mails. She said the objective for her and the FBI was to try to determine Reynolds’ intent and his targets. Rossmiller had been affiliated with the federal agency since 2004.

Reynolds previously told investigators that he had acted alone and didn’t trust law enforcement enough to notify them of his actions, according to court documents. Rossmiller said the FBI eventually instructed her not to communicate further with Reynolds.

Gurganis showed the jury one e-mail he said Reynolds wrote that discusses how fuel disruption in the United States following Hurricane Katrina caused fuel to double in cost and that Reynolds’ plan could recreate that fuel disruption on a larger scale. Rossmiller said that in one e-mail, Reynolds said he could “take out” the Alaskan Pipeline. The e-mail said fuel production could be disrupted for four weeks or longer and that a bus, four propane trucks and other items would be needed for the mission.

The federal indictment against Reynolds resulted from two grenades found in April 2005 in the Scott Street home Reynolds had shared with his mother, and another grenade found in a storage unit at Appalachian Self Storage on Heinz Drive later that year.

Rossmiller said that in the e-mails introduced as evidence Monday, Reynolds asked for more than $100,000 for his part in the plot. Federal prosecutors arrested Reynolds in Idaho as he approached a drop-off point where they had agreed to leave $40,000 for him.

Reynolds’ ex-wife was the first witness Gurganis called to the stand. Tammy Anderson of Connecticut was married to Reynolds until 1995. She testified that the couple lived with her parents in Tannersville and numerous other locations during their 13-year marriage.

Anderson said Reynolds became interested in “Soldier of Fortune” magazine and guns, and that he possessed a grenade that resembled an “ugly, green pineapple.” She said she last saw it in 1983 and didn’t know if it was a live grenade. Anderson said her ex-husband started to wear a lot of camouflage clothing while they were married and wanted to be a mercenary.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. today in federal court.