A Long Island man has pleaded guilty to providing information about New York City transit systems to Al Qaeda for potential terrorist attacks and to firing rockets at an American military base in Afghanistan.
Bryant Neal Vinas, 26, was charged with conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals, providing material support to Al Qaeda and receiving military-type training from Al Qaeda in an indictment unsealed in a Brooklyn federal court on July 22, 2009. He pleaded guilty to all three counts on January 28, 2009.
Vinas, a Muslim convert who is also known as Bashir al-Ameriki, Arabic for "Bashir the American," provided Al Qaeda with detailed information on the Long Island Rail Road between March and November 2008, which he claims he knew from riding the railroad on many occasions. "The purpose of providing this information was to help plan a bomb attack of the Long Island Rail Road system," Vinas said in his guilty plea.
Soon after his capture in Pakistan, American federal authorities issued a security alert about an Al Qaeda plan to blow up a Long Island Rail Road train inside New York's Penn station. The alert also warned of an Al Qaeda plot against New York commuter trains and transit systems involving "the use of suicide bombers or explosives placed on subway/passenger rail systems."
Vinas, who reportedly engaged in target shooting in Long Island prior to his trip to Pakistan, received "military-type training" from Al Qaeda in general combat and explosives, according to his guilty plea. He also learned how to shoot rockets and assault rifles and how to assemble a suicide bomber's vest. He had arrived in northwestern Pakistan along the Afghanistan border, an area largely controlled by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in the fall of 2007 "with the intention of meeting and joining a jihadist group to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan." Soon after arriving in Pakistan, Vinas met with Al Qaeda leaders and was accepted into the terrorist network.
In September 2008, Vinas took part in two missions to attack a U.S. military base near the Pakistan and Afghanistan border at the behest of Al Qaeda leaders, according to his guilty plea. While the first attempt resulted in an aborted mission, Vinas successfully fired rockets at an American military base in the second attempt. "Although we intended to hit the military base and kill American soldiers, I was informed that the rockets missed and the attack failed," Vinas said.
Vinas was raised Catholic and converted to Islam in 2004, two years after being discharged from the U.S. Army, where he spent one month in infantry training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Some observers have indicated that he converted at the Al Falah mosque in Corona, Queens, which is reportedly run by the Tablighi Jamaat missionary movement, a strict Islamic movement that has been labeled by the FBI as a "recruiting ground for Al Qaeda." Other convicted terrorists involved with this movement include Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for conspiracy to provide and providing material support to terrorists; the Lackawanna Six, a group of six Yemeni-Americans who were convicted of providing material support to Al Qaeda; and Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber."
Officials suggest that Vinas radicalized himself by looking at various extremist Web sites and videos. Vinas' reported involvement with the Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS), a New York-based group that supports violence in order to create a global Islamic state, may have also played a role in his radicalization. Officials have indicated that former ITS member Ahmer Qayyum, who now reportedly resides in Lahore, Pakistan, helped Vinas travel to Pakistan in September 2007 and may have introduced Vinas to militants on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. In a May 2010 press release, ITS denied Vinas's involvement with their group.
Some of Vinas' friends have reportedly indicated that he was angry at the U.S. government for its support for Israel. Anti-Israel themes are central to ITS ideology; the group often calls for the destruction of the state of Israel during demonstrates in front of Israeli consulates and at Israel Day parades in New York.
Vinas also met with Yusuf al-Khatab, a former leader of Revolution Muslim (RM), a New York-based anti-Semitic organization that justifies terrorist attacks and other forms of violence against non-Muslims. According to al-Khatab, Vinas had dinner with him in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Since his arrest, Vinas has cooperated with federal authorities in terrorism cases in the U.S. and abroad. He has reportedly provided information that helped U.S. forces target Al Qaeda camps with drone attacks and submitted a 20-page witness statement against French and Belgium nationals who admitted to training and fighting with Al Qaeda in Pakistan. In the statement, Vinas reportedly revealed that Al Qaeda provides its members with training in assassinations, poison, kidnappings, forgery and advanced bomb-making.
Vinas, who remains in custody in New York, was captured in Peshawar, Pakistan, in November 2008 after he reportedly returned to the city to find a wife. The original indictment was filed against him in Brooklyn federal court that month, and a superseding indictment the following January. Vinas faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.