Patchogue man allegedly aided al-Qaida

(AP) - An American-born al-Qaida recruit has become oneof the counterterrorism world's most valuable informants, givinginvestigators a rare look at al-Qaida's day-to-day operations in alawless region bordering Pakistan which U.S. officials havestruggled to infiltrate, investigators say. Bryant Neal Vinas, who grew up in Patchogue, was charged in New York court papers unsealedWednesday with giving al-Qaida "expert advice and assistance"about New York's transit system and with a rocket attack on U.S.forces in Afghanistan last year. The identity of the 26-year-old Vinas, nicknamed "Ibrahim" or"Bashir al-Ameriki," has been kept secret since his indictmentlate last year. Court papers show he pleaded guilty in January in asealed courtroom in Brooklyn and remains in U.S. custody in NewYork. A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymitybecause the official was not authorized to discuss the case, saidVinas provided critical information that led to a security alertabout the New York City subway system last year. The officialdescribed Vinas as a military convert captured last year inPakistan. Authorities issued an alert around Thanksgiving last year sayingthe FBI had received a "plausible but unsubstantiated" reportthat al-Qaida terrorists in late September may have discussedattacking the subway system around the holidays. The origin of thatreport, the official said, was Vinas. Vinas was also interviewed this year in New York by prosecutorsin Belgium pursuing an anti-terror case involving Malika El Aroud,the widow of a man involved in killing anti-Taliban warlord AhmedShah Massoud two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,an official at the Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office saidThursday. Vinas' testimony was being submitted to a closed court custodyhearing on Friday in Belgium, said the official, who spoke oncondition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. El Aroud and five others have been in custody since their arrestin December and are charged with belonging to a terroristorganization, which Belgian officials say is part of an al-Qaidagroup plotting new attacks either in Europe or elsewhere. A defense attorney in that case, Christophe Marchand, said Vinashad provided a statement against the French and Belgium defendantscharged with going to Pakistan to volunteer to fight with al-Qaida. Marchand denied his client was a terrorist or knew Vinas. "He never talked about meeting an American - never," thelawyer said. Other people familiar with the case say Vinas toldcounterterrorism investigators about meetings with top al-Qaidamembers while staying at a network of hideouts on theAfghanistan-Pakistan border, where he trained from about March 2008to August 2008. Vinas named several of the terror group's officials anddescribed their activities, including rocket and mortar strikesagainst U.S. forces in the area, said the people, who spokeWednesday on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorizedto disclose details of his statements. Vinas also revealeddiscussions among terrorists about potential civilian targets inEurope and described training in weapons and explosives, they said. Vinas received "military-style training" from al-Qaida,according to court papers. Vinas' attorney, Len Kamdang, wouldn't comment, other thanrequesting "the public withhold judgment in this case until all ofthe facts become available." There was no answer at the door Wednesday at a Vinas familyaddress in Patchogue. A woman who answered a family phone number found in publicrecords said she was Vinas' mother and had not seen her son sincehe moved out 10 years ago at age 18. "He's a stranger to me," she said before hanging up withoutgiving her name. Vinas' Peruvian-born father, Juan Vinas, told the Los AngelesTimes in a recent interview that federal agents had interviewedhim. He said he didn't know where his son was. "The FBI asked me all kinds of questions about him, but theydon't tell me nothing," he said. The president of the Islamic Association of Long Island, amosque in nearby Selden, said he recalled a "very quiet, polite,smiley" young Hispanic man called Ibrahim, who was a frequent butunassuming presence at the mosque for about a year, startingroughly 2 1/2 years ago. He turned up four to five times a week for services but neverparticipated in any social activities at the mosque, said presidentNayyar Imam. He said Ibrahim apparently converted to Islam andchanged his name before he began coming to the mosque. "He's the last person in the mosque you would think about"getting involved in terrorism, Imam said.

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