Friday, February 17, 2006

The al Qaeda Among Us

Michael Curtis Reynolds says he’s a patriot.

Federal authorities say he’s a terrorist.

The FBI believes that the unemployed Wilkes-Barre man tried to conspire with al-Qaeda to wreck the American economy.

... Reynolds, 47, has not been publicly charged with terrorism. But a federal prosecutor leveled that accusation during a December court hearing, saying that Reynolds attempted to “provide material aid to al-Qaeda” 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 C. Gurganus Jr. said at the hearing in Wilkes-Barre.

...Described by his former father-in-law as a “John Wayne wanna-be,” Reynolds has a string of bad debts and criminal convictions - including one for attempted arson.

His last known address was Room 205 at the Thunderbird Hotel in Pocatello, Idaho.

In the FBI sting two months ago, Reynolds was drawn to a meeting with a purported al-Qaeda operative about 25 miles from the hotel, where he expected to receive $40,000 to finance the alleged plot.

The al-Qaeda contact was actually Shannen Rossmiller, a 36-year-old judge who lives in Conrad, Mont.

She was working for the FBI.”

Yes, that was me in communication with Reynolds,” Rossmiller acknowledged in a telephone interview Friday night. “But I can’t comment further.

“This is not Rossmiller’s first sting. She regularly monitors extremist Muslim Web sites, searching for potential terrorists. In 2004, she helped win a conviction against a National Guardsman in Tacoma, Wash., whom she met online.

... Since his arrest in December, FBI agents in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Pennsylvania have scrambled to piece together Reynolds’ background and gauge the credibility of the threat he posed.

...“We certainly took it seriously,” said one federal official who is familiar with the deliberations regarding whether or when terrorism charges will be brought against Reynolds.

According to Gurganus, Reynolds hoped that 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-Qaeda to terrorize this nation.

He needed $40,000 to carry out his alleged plot.

The day he was arrested, Reynolds’ net worth was $24.85 Reynolds was shipped back to Pennsylvania to face a single charge: possession of a grenade.

...Along with his conviction for attempted arson in 1978, Reynolds was convicted that same year of menacing, officials said. He also has unrelated convictions for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and breach of the peace - the latter a fight with his eldest son in Ansonia, Conn., where he lived from 1999 until mid-2003.

The grenade charges, however, carry greater penalties than the months-long sentences he has received in the past. Reynolds now faces three to seven years in federal prison.

Government officials believe that his crimes are much more serious than that, no matter how outlandish they might seem.

A former federal antiterrorism coordinator in Philadelphia said authorities could not afford to take such cases lightly.

Before 9/11, flying airplanes into a building might have seemed like something out of a Tom Clancy novel, but now you have to take these kinds of threats seriously,” said Joseph Poluka, who is now a lawyer at the firm Blank Rome.

“You can’t treat these things as fiction unless something sounds plainly unbelievable.”[emphasis mine]
So, a guy with less than 25 bucks to his name, holed up in a dump in Pocatello, Idaho is such a serious national threat he attracts the attention of FBI personnel from four states and a chat-room-cruising Montana judge -can one really disrupt such government (dys)function? Yes, it seems about right. This guy has clearly been having issues for decades and unfortunately his timing was all wrong. Among things the great Saint Ronnie accomplished were cutbacks for mental health institutions and services so individuals like Michael have become our homeless, our prison population and now, apparently, our al Qaeda threat. It's clear to see who's shooting blanks at Blank Rome - thank you Condi Paluka (planes, levees, Hamas ... who could see them coming).