updated 7/9/2007 8:04:41 PM ET 2007-07-10T00:04:41

A man who tried to blow up his parents' house in 1978 went on trial Monday for allegedly offering to help al-Qaida destroy pipelines and refineries in a bid to help end the war in Iraq.

Michael C. Reynolds, 49, a transient who lived with his elderly mother in Wilkes-Barre, was arrested in December 2005 after he tried to meet a purported al-Qaida contact near a hotel in Pocatello, Idaho, where he had been staying.

The contact, whom he met in an Internet chat room, turned out to be Shannen Rossmiller, a judge from Conrad, Mont., who was working for the FBI. Prosecutors said Reynolds exchanged more than 50 e-mail messages with her, at one point providing a list of materials that would be needed to build a bomb.

"Michael Reynolds' plan was to help al-Qaida cells that he believed existed in Canada and the United States," Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganis Jr. said in his opening statement.

Rossmiller has won acclaim across America by using the Internet to lure would-be terrorists.

Reynolds said that he, like Rossmiller, was working as a private citizen to uncover terrorist plots.

"Both decided to take matters into their own hands," his attorney, Joseph O'Brien, told jurors in federal court here. "They bumped into each other on the Internet. ... This is a 'Spy vs. Spy' case."

The sting
Rossmiller, 38, who resigned her judgeship last September to join the Montana attorney general's office, testified that she was monitoring an Internet bulletin board favored by admirers of Osama bin Laden in October 2005 when she saw a posting that piqued her interest.

"It is true America has overstepped its bounds in invading Iraq. Those serious enough to do something about it should e-mail," said the message, which eventually was traced to Reynolds, according to prosecutors.

A few days later, Rossmiller, posting under the name "Hamza Ali Osman," wrote back: "Please let me know what plan is about."

Reynolds allegedly replied, "The plan is about recall of foreign troops home, as well as firing of their boss, making further troubles from them impossible."

Prosecutors said Reynolds sought to target the Williams natural gas refinery in Opal, Wyo.; the Transcontinental Pipeline, a natural-gas pipeline that runs from the Gulf Coast through Pennsylvania to New York and New Jersey; and a Standard Oil refinery in Perth Amboy, N.J., that no longer exists.

He thought his plan would help end the war in Iraq because troops would have to be recalled to help guard the U.S. energy infrastructure, said Gurganis.

Man in debt
Reynolds, who lived and worked in Austria and Thailand in early 2005, also had a simpler motive: "Greed," said Gurganis. He owed more than $5,000 in child support, and his passport had been canceled because of it.

The e-mail traffic between Reynolds and Rossmiller, which lasted about a month, showed a man obsessed with money. He repeatedly demanded payment, at one point asking for $100,000. "We can't go forward without some payment. I'm serious," he wrote. Reynolds also balked at giving away too much information for free: "If I give too many details, there's no need to hire me."

He boasted that he had conducted similar operations in other countries "for over 24 years."

At the meeting in Idaho, Reynolds expected to receive $40,000 to finance the alleged plot, according to court documents.

"Mine is to leave this accursed country forever. It isn't the land of the free but the home of the new dictators," he wrote.

Lengthy police record
The correspondence between Rossmiller and Reynolds lasted about a month.

Reynolds has a lengthy police record that includes convictions for attempted arson, disorderly conduct and breach of the peace.

The 1978 arson conviction stemmed from an attempt to blow up his parents' house in Purdys, N.Y., using gasoline, open cans of paint, a disconnected propane gas line and a timing device. The house caught on fire, but the propane failed to ignite, and his parents escaped unharmed.

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