BY James Gordon Meek and John Marzulli
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
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.
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 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.
Read it all via Feds: Long Island man gave Al Qaeda info on city subways, LIRR.
More from Newsday:
The president of the Selden mosque where Vinas attended prayer services said Thursday that Vinas’ involvement with al-Qaida “is totally out of line with the religion.”
“They should lock him up and throw away the key,” said Nayyar Imam, president of the Islamic Association of Long Island. “This is an individual act. It had nothing to do with this mosque and it had nothing to do with this religion.”
Imam said Vinas never formally joined the mosque but attended services there. He said he remembered Vinas, who stood out as the only Hispanic attending prayer services on a regular basis.
“Totally out of line with the religion”. Wow. Talk about audacity. Then followed up by some racial profiling – “the only Hispanic” – of which Muslims are always complaining about. Speaking of out of line with the religion, the imam stated Vinas should be punished to the fullest. More than many other so-called representatives of Islam in the U.S. can offer.
In September 2008, Vinas said, he traveled to a town near the Afghan frontier where he joined a group of jihadists including al Qaeda fighters. Creeping toward the Afghan border, he said, the group fired rockets toward an American combat outpost in Afghanistan. This is the attack Vinas pleaded guilty to in January, authorities said Wednesday.
After launching the attack, Vinas spent several weeks in the mountains of Waziristan near the Afghan border. It was there, Vinas said, that he had detailed conversations with “al Qaeda chiefs,” according to the document. Vinas is quoted as saying the subject of those discussions included attacks in the West, including in the United States. Vinas is not quoted in the document elaborating further.
Vinas stated that he left Pakistan’s tribal areas in October 2008 and returned to Peshawar in search of a wife. That’s where he was arrested a few weeks later.