Web sleuth testifies in terror trial in Scranton

A Montana woman related how she ensnared a Pa. man accused of plotting to blow up the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Posted: July 09, 2007

SCRANTON - In a much-anticipated meeting between hunter and prey, Shannen Rossmiller told a federal court jury today how she discovered and ensnared Wilkes-Barre terror suspect Michael C. Reynolds on the Internet during the fall of 2005.

Rossmiller, 38, a former municipal court judge in Montana who pretended to be an al-Qaeda operative on the Web, testified how Reynolds, 49, told her by e-mail how the terrorist organization could blow up the trans-Alaska Pipeline and other elements of the American energy infrastructure.

The testimony came in the opening day of the trial. Reynolds is accused of, among other charges, attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, and soliciting to commit a crime of violence. According to the government, Reynolds' goal was to plunge the country into economic chaos by disrupting the flow of gas and oil. This would, in Reynolds' view, help end the war in Iraq by forcing the recall of troops to quell panic in America, the government has alleged.

For his part, Reynolds has said that he, like Rossmiller, was hunting terrorists on the Internet, and that it was never his plan to blow up pipelines. Reynolds and Rossmiller simply "bumped into each other" on the Internet, each trying to thwart al-Qaeda, said Reynolds' lawyer, Joseph O'Brien, during opening statements.

Reynolds was frustrated by the government's inability to stop al-Qaeda, and, like Rossmiller, wanted to uncover terrorist activity himself, O'Brien said.

Rossmiller told a different tale. In clipped, precise language, she read from e-mail she exchanged with Reynolds in October and November of 2005. Rossmiller had pretended to have links to al-Qaeda with the power to carry out the plot the government has accused Reynolds of masterminding.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Rossmiller learned Arabic and developed various personae on the Web who say they are terrorists, she testified. People bent on the destruction of the United States have contacted her, believing that she is working with al-Qaeda, she testified.

Rossmiller testified that she has been working with the FBI on various cases, including this one.

Writing on the Osama Bin Laden Crew Yahoo message board, Reynolds - who was living in Thailand at the time - said: "America has overstepped its bounds in Iraq. . . . There is a plan if you only truly seek to commit to it. . . . Let's talk." He later wrote, "It would be a pity to lose this idea." Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus displayed this and other e-mails on courtroom computer screens.

Writing back to Reynolds as Homza Al Osman of al-Qaeda, Rossmiller said: "Please let me know what the plan is."

Reynolds wrote instead about what payment he should expect. Over the course of the e-mail correspondence, however, he indicated that Hurricane Katrina taught him that a disruption of oil and gas would be catastrophic for the country. It could result in the government's recalling troops from Iraq, the people rising up against the government, and the "firing of their boss," President Bush.

"Recall plus anarchy," Reynolds wrote. "We need both. Don't you agree?"

Reynolds then listed objects needed to blow up energy pipelines, including trucks loaded with propane and flare guns.

"Let the sheik know my missions have never failed," Reynolds wrote to Rossmiller. "I have done this ... in ... other countries." No evidence was presented showing this to be true.

Reynolds agreed to accept $40,000 from "al-Qaeda," according to the e-mail. After his plan was carried out by al-Qaeda operatives, he wrote, he would leave "this accursed country" forever.

Reynolds was arrested by the FBI on Dec. 5, 2005, after he went to pick up the money at an Idaho highway rest stop known as Hell's Half-Acre.

In his opening remarks, Gurganus told the 12 jurors and two alternates that along with his opposition to the war, Reynolds was also motivated by greed. Gurganus added that Reynolds had fallen in arrears in child-support payments to his former wife for their three children.

His ex-wife, Tammy Anderson, also testified today, describing a peripatetic married life and a husband who held many jobs.

Reynolds had an abiding interest in military-related activities, she said.

"Michael was very interested in becoming a mercenary," she testified. "He read Soldier of Fortune magazine and started wearing a lot of camouflage. His dream was to open a security business called C-Com, with the motto, 'Second to None.' " But, she said, Reynolds only printed up business cards.

The couple divorced in October 1995 after a 13-year marriage, Anderson testified. Reynolds then started moving around the country, and even lived in Austria and Thailand, she said. By 2005, he owed her more than $5,000 in child support, she testified.

Earlier in the day, O'Brien described Reynolds as a patriot and military veteran who was simply trying to fight al-Qaeda.

"Michael Reynolds was motivated like Shannen Rossmiller," O'Brien said. "Both were going on the Internet as private citizens to ferret out terrorists." He added: "There was no injury to any person or property. No damage was done to this country."

O'Brien was expected to cross-examine Rossmiller Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.

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