Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Pennsylvania man was convicted yesterday of plotting to blow up U.S. oil pipelines and gas facilities and of attempting to enlist al Qaeda terrorists on the Internet to help carry out his plan.

Michael C. Reynolds, 49, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was found guilty by a jury of six women and six men in U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pa. They took a little more than an hour to reach a verdict. He faces a maximum 57½ years in prison at sentencing.

The government accused Reynolds of scheming to blow up the Alaska and Transcontinental pipelines and other energy installations to prompt a withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq, laying out the scheme in extreme detail to a man he thought was an al Qaeda contact but who was actually a former federal magistrate working with the FBI.

The ex-magistrate, Shannen Rossmiller, had been independently tracking extremists on the Internet since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Reynolds was arrested in December 2005 at a rural rest stop in Idaho after he tried to meet Mr. Rossmiller near a hotel in Pocatello, Idaho. Authorities said Reynolds had gone to the rest stop at the suggestion of his contact, who told him that was where he could find a satchel full of money to finance the operation.

Authorities said his intended first target was a natural gas refinery at Opal in western Wyoming.

According to court records, Reynolds told the contact that blowing up U.S. energy facilities would lead to “instant rebellion” by the American public. The records said Reynolds agreed with his contact that $40,000 would be necessary to finance the attack.

The records show 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 failsafe “15-20 minute timer.”

During the trial, prosecutors presented a series of computer messages between Reynolds and Mr. Rossmiller, whom he knew only from an Internet message board used by followers of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

In one message, according to records, Reynolds said the Williams natural gas refinery in Opal was the “largest refinery in the West,” adding that it should be attacked on Dec. 24, 2005, when presumably there would be less security.

“The site has no fences or security to speak of, 3 men would merely walk as they wished there and leave undetected. … Minimum forces, maximum damage,” he wrote.

During trial, Reynolds maintained he was working as a private citizen in an effort to uncover terrorist plots and that his Internet communications were meant to ensnare a person he thought was a terrorist.

But 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 Perth Amboy, N.J., which no longer exists.

The records show that FBI agent Mark Seyler, posing as an Islamic extremist, told Reynolds that attacking the United States on behalf of al Qaeda would be “of delight to Allah and will be of much benefit to you also.”

Prosecutors said Reynolds might have been motivated primarily by money since 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.”

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