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 gas pipeline; distributing instructions on making explosives over the Internet; and possession of hand grenades.
Reynolds’ suspected plans were uncovered by Shannen Rossmiller, a former Montana magistrate and Internet sleuth with a record for tracking down extremists online.
She 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’ defense lawyer argued that Reynolds, too, was snooping for potential security threats online.
The indictment accuses Reynolds of participating in an Internet chat room called OBLCrew, named after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
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, sought information from Reynolds about his motivations and methods.
According to one e-mail from Reynolds, an attack on major energy facilities would force U.S. President George W. Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq and lead to the government’s downfall, Gurganus said.
“Americans will trample Washington to recall troops, and people will make a new government,” Reynolds wrote to Rossmiller, Gurganus told the court in opening arguments.
Reynolds’ attorney, Joseph O’Brien, argued that his client had done no harm and was, like Rossmiller, trying to track down terrorists on the Internet.
“He was attempting to uncover terrorist activity, to do the job that the government had not been doing,” O’Brien said. “Reynolds and Shannen Rossmiller both decided to take matters into their own hands.”