A homegrown ex-Al Qaeda member will soon walk free after spending more than eight years giving invaluable counter-terrorism intelligence to the feds.
Bryant Neal Vinas helped foil a Long Island Rail Road bomb plot and testified against a would-be subway suicide bomber.
Vinas, who was born in Queens and raised in Patchogue, L.I., helped the feds close more than 30 criminal cases. He sat through approximately 100 interviews and sifted through 1,000 photographs to help authorities confirm their understanding, debunk misconceptions and find leads in the war on terror.
For all that work, Vinas, 34, got a sentence Thursday of time served — plus 90 days — for admitting in 2009 to once plotting to kill Americans when he traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan bent on jihad.
Without the substantial assistance he gave to law enforcement, Vinas was looking at a sentence of 30 years to life.
“Put simply, Mr. Vinas’ cooperation has been extraordinary,” Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis said, noting Vinas would keep facing the risks for being a terrorism cooperator as long as he lived.
The judge noted he had to think both ways when making a sentence for Vinas. He had to deter anyone thinking about terrorism, but he also didn’t want to deter cooperators as well.
Talking about his time with Al Qaeda, Vinas said there was “no excuse to justify what I did. I blame no one but myself.”
But all his time in custody gave him some time to think, said Vinas, who wore a gray sweatshirt, thick-framed glasses and a ponytail.
“I would like to turn a bad thing into a good thing,” he said.
Vinas said he hoped to get into counter-terrorism work some day. If that didn’t pan out, Vinas said he’d want to get into construction and “earn a blue collar living.”
Vinas was born Roman Catholic but converted to Islam in 2004. Prosecutors said he became more and more upset about the perceived persecution of Muslims by Western countries.
In 2007, he traveled overseas looking to carry out jihad, first to Pakistan and then Afghanistan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Tucker when Vinas got on foreign soil he “relentlessly” kept at trying to join Al Qaeda. He participated in rocket attacks and “plotted terror attacks on the homeland.”
But Vinas quickly started talking within days of his arrest by Pakistani authorities.
The assistance Vinas gave — like the alert on the LIRR plot and his trial testimony against the foiled suicide bomber Adis Medunjanin — “extremely substantial,” Tucker said.
Still, Tucker said Vinas had grown more withdrawn over the years, which was concerning and didn’t shed much light on whether Vinas would be a danger in the future.
Garaufis said no one could look into the future to predict if Vinas would pose some threat in the future. Still, the judge said he was “cautiously optimistic” Vinas — who had no prior record — “learned the error of his ways.”
He gave Vinas a lifetime of supervised release, but said he could apply for court permission to be released from the supervision down the road. He also ordered mental health treatment for Vinas.
Outside court, Michael Bachrach, one of Vinas’ lawyers, said his client was “relieved and grateful, and looking forward to his new life. Now the judge has given him this opportunity.”
What happened to Vinas was a warning tale to other terror groups who thought they could woo impressionable minds, said Zissou. “This guy showed he’s American.”
Really? Did he leave Islam and renounce it or is he still a Muslim? Has he renounced Islamic jihad in any way? Time will tell.
Did the Feds investigate the Selden, L.I. mosque Vinas attended? The mosque flipped on Vinas/al-Ameriki as quickly as al-Ameriki supposedly flipped on his fellow jihadists:
“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.”
‘Vinas pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court to participating in a rocket attack against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and providing details of New York’s transit system to Al Qaeda.’