Pa. terror suspect says he was trying to fool al-Qaida

SCRANTON - In a day of high drama, Michael Curtis Reynolds took the stand at his federal terrorism trial to proclaim his innocence, then withstood a withering 70-minute cross-examination from an agitated U.S. attorney who was admonished by the judge to "cool off."

With close-cropped hair and an air of self-possessed confidence, Reynolds sat in an ill-fitting gray suit and told the jury in a soft voice that he "never intended to harm anyone" or to damage energy pipelines, as he is charged. Neither, he said, did he ever own hand grenades, another of the charges leveled against him.

He is, he said, an Army veteran and a test engineer for high-tech and electronic firms. He has an abiding interest in all things military, and a love of Thailand, where he traveled to marry a woman he had met online. "It didn't work out," he said.

Accused of using the Internet to help al-Qaeda attempt to blow up portions of the U.S. gas and oil infrastructure, Reynolds said that he was merely drawing out people he had met online whom he thought were terrorists.

He said he came across "someone from al-Qaeda insinuating" terrorist activity.

"I became curious," and wanted "to entice them" into exposing themselves, he said.

When cross-examining Reynolds, Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus energetically challenged everything Reynolds had said and written. Gurganus attacked Reynolds' credibility about his military background, his resume, his work history, his accounts of how hand grenades came to be found among his belongings, and, finally, his claim that he is a terrorist-hunter, and not a terrorist.

Gurganus pointed out that Reynolds had testified that he demanded a face-to-face meeting with the person online he thought was an al-Qaeda operative. But in several e-mails that Reynolds admitted he had written, he seemed to have been saying just the opposite.

The person Reynolds thought was from al-Qaeda was Shannen Rossmiller, described at the trial as an FBI source who regularly goes online to ensnare terrorists. In her guise as a terrorist, e-mail evidence shows, Rossmiller asked Reynolds several times for a face-to-face meeting. FBI special agent Mark Seyler, who took over the Internet sting from Rossmiller, made similar requests. In e-mails, Reynolds demurred.

"You wanted a face-to-face?" Gurganus asked, his voice rising. "Isn't it the other way around?"

Another apparent contradiction involved Reynolds' plan to capture the people he thought were terrorists. Reynolds had initially told authorities, according to FBI testimony, that after he had exposed the al-Qaeda people with whom he had been communicating, he would call a private security firm named Northbridge. Law enforcement, he had said, could not be trusted.

But yesterday, Reynolds said that he had planned to call the FBI all along.

"You changed your story now to say you'd call the FBI," Gurganus said, seemingly incredulous. "That story is so ridiculous."

Asked why he wrote up lists of bomb-making materials and drew schematics of bombs that al-Qaeda could use to damage pipelines, Reynolds said: "I altered the drawings to make them ineffective."

Gurganus bore in, saying, In the e-mails, "you're strongly urging al-Qaeda to attack the United States, true?"

"Only to entice them," Reynolds replied, explaining that he was merely trying to do what Rossmiller had done.

At one point, after listing several e-mails in which Reynolds was asking his online counterpart for money in exchange for the bomb-making acumen and intelligence about the pipelines, Gurganus, his voice growing louder, told Reynolds: "To draw people out, you don't need to demand cash."

That's when Judge Edwin Kosik, presiding over the case, told Gurganus: "You're getting argumentative. Cool off."

Under Gurganus' earlier questioning, Reynolds seemed to be blaming both his brother and his brother-in-law for the two hand grenades that were found among Reynolds' belongings.

And when Gurganus asked Reynolds why his military records indicate that he went AWOL, Reynolds said it was a "paperwork problem," and that it was not true.

Gurganus also challenged Reynolds' contentions that he has a college degree; that he provided security for a diamond concern in Angola; that he had been sent overseas to work for Motorola; and other aspects of Reynolds' life.

When told that the government could not find a W-2 form to prove Reynolds had worked for a Boston high-tech firm, as he had claimed, Reynolds said: "It's not misleading."

During the presentation by the government, which rested earlier yesterday, the jury never heard that, as a teenager, Reynolds tried to blow up his parents in a well-to-do suburb of New York.

Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or