Feds: Long Island man gave Al Qaeda info on city subways, LIRRBy James Gordon Meek and John Marzulli
NY Daily News
July 23, 2009
A Long Island man who fed details to Al Qaeda on city subways and LIRR.
A Long Island man confessed to feeding Al Qaeda information about New York's subways and LIRR trains, triggering last year's Thanksgiving Eve terror alert, the feds say.
Bryant Neal Vinas, 26, the son of South American immigrants and a convert to Islam, was captured in November in Pakistan after he joined in a rocket attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to court papers unsealed Wednesday.
He confessed his treason almost immediately and began cooperating, offering information of potentially great value because he had met with high-level operational leaders, sources said.
Vinas is one of a handful of Americans charged with joining the terror network that took down the World Trade Center and has sworn to destroy America. A former truck driver who grew up Catholic in Patchogue, he converted to radical Islam and became a fighter known variously as "Ibrahim" or "Bashir el Ameriki" - Bashir the American.
He appears to fit the pattern of other troubled misfits who reject their family and American culture in favor of jihad, among them California's John Walker Lindh, Baton Rouge-born Yaser Hamdi and Brooklyn's Jose Padilla.
His capture - and the information he spilled - prompted Homeland Security Department officials to issue an urgent Nov. 25 alert about a "plausible but unsubstantiated" threat of a suicide attack on Long Island Rail Road trains in Penn Station. Cops flooded the busy transit hub during the Thanksgiving exodus, which proved uneventful.
Vinas pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court in January to participating in a rocket attack against U.S. troops in Afghanistan last year; providing details of New York's transit system to Al Qaeda, and receiving five months of military training at an Al Qaeda terrorist camp.
His identity and his very existence had been kept secret as he helps build cases against extremists here and overseas. Vinas, who is in custody in New York, is set to testify soon in a terror case in Belgium.
The court papers unsealed Wednesday said Vinas provided "expert advice and assistance" derived from his "specialized knowledge" of New York's subways and the Long Island Rail Road. But several law enforcement sources told the Daily News that Vinas never worked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and had no more knowledge of commuter trains than the average passenger.
"I ask that judgment be withheld until all the facts are known," said federal defender Len Kamdang, declining to comment further about his client.
Vinas' hometown of Patchogue is the same middle-class community that produced Lt. Michael Murphy, the Navy SEAL who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Vinas began attending a mosque in Selden, L.I., and dressing in Islamic garb, but never explained his conversion to his Peruvian-born father, the Los Angeles Times reported. Juan Vinas, a retired engineer, told the paper his son abruptly took off in 2007 and he has no idea what happened to him.
"The FBI asked me all kinds of questions about him, but they don't tell me nothing," he said at his modest brick house near the Long Island Expressway in Patchogue.
A woman believed to be his estranged Argentinian-born mom, Maria Luisa Uraga, told The Associated Press she had not seen her son since he was 18.
"He's a stranger to me," she said in a call to her Medford, L.I., home.
Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), who sits on the Homeland Security and Intelligence Committee, said Vinas "demonstrates the real threat from homegrown terrorists."