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Michael Curtis Reynolds (mugshot courtesy CBS)

Is he an American patriot, or a terrorist trying to kill the U.S. economy?

That’s the question surrounding Michael Curtis Reynolds, a 47-year-old unemployed resident of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who federal agents say worked with al-Qaida in a plot to blow up the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, a Pennsylvania pipeline, and a New Jersey refinery.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Reynolds is not publicly charged with terrorism, but a federal prosecutor said in a December hearing that Reynolds attempted to “provide material aid to al-Qaida” and that the case “involves a federal offense of terrorism.”

“He was doing it as a plan to disrupt governmental function, to change the government’s actions in foreign countries, and to impact on the national debate about the war,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gurganus Jr. said at the hearing.

Reynolds, described by his former father-in-law Richard Danise as a “John Wayne wanna-be,” has been held in the Lackawanna County jail in Pennsylvania without bail on unrelated weapons charges since Dec. 5. “I got the mortgage for him,” Danise told the paper. “He literally wanted to build a castle, with turrets and everything else. But he had no credit, and he never broke ground.”

Reynolds’ lawyer, Philip Gelso, declined any comment, as did U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Heidi Havens who indicated her office “does not comment on active investigations.”

The FBI reportedly conducted a sting two months ago, as Reynolds was allegedly drawn to a meeting with a purported al-Qaida operative about 25 miles from a hotel, in Pocatello, Idaho, where he expected to get $40,000 to finance the alleged plot.

The Inquirer says Reynolds’ letters, computer drawings and e-mails detailed his plan to explode trucks filled with propane along the Alaskan pipeline. This included “information on explosive devices, site plans and placement of explosive devices.” He also allegedly planned to blow up sections of the Transcontinental Pipeline, a natural-gas pipeline that runs from the Gulf Coast, through Pennsylvania, to New Jersey and New York City. The government also believes he targeted Standard Oil Co. in Perth Amboy, N.J., as well as the Williams Refinery in Opal, Wyo.

According to Gurganus, Reynolds hoped the attacks on the oil industry would “disrupt governmental function,” provoke opposition to the Iraq war, drive up fuel prices, and “lend to the efforts by al-Qaida to terrorize this nation.”

Federal officials say Reynolds tried to disavow any alleged conspiracy when he was questioned by the FBI. He told them that he, too, was a patriot and was looking to expose an al-Qaida cell operating inside the United States.

“He claimed he was trying to lure this terrorist group in,” Gurganus said in court.



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