A former American member of al Qaeda has reemerged as a witness against the terror group, helping federal agents who are trying to put alleged veteran terrorists behind bars, according to a law enforcement official.
The official confirmed New York native Bryant Neal Vinas is the “cooperating witness” who is supporting the Department of Justice's case against two alleged Yemeni members of al Qaeda, as described in a complaint against the pair unsealed today. The Yemenis, Saddiq al-Abbadi and Ali Alvi, are charged with conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals abroad.
The complaint refers to an unidentified man as CW #1 and details his first failed and later successful attempts to join al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2007 and his run-ins at al Qaeda safe houses near the Afghan border with the defendants in the new case. The Yemenis, the complaint says, tried to help CW #1 get into al Qaeda, even offering to write a letter of recommendation to al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate if the Pakistani branch wouldn’t take him.
A statement by the DOJ today said the Yemenis had “helped an American citizen gain entry into al Qaeda,” and a letter submitted to the court by prosecutors over the weekend names Vinas as the American one of the defendants had helped. The law enforcement official confirmed to ABC News that Vinas is CW #1.
Vinas was charged in 2008 with conspiracy to “commit acts outside the United States that would constitute the offenses of murder and maiming…” He was also accused of taking part in a rocket attack against a U.S. base in Afghanistan. The next year, he pleaded guilty but he apparently has not been sentenced, based on public court documents.
In the complaint against the Yemeni suspects, the FBI says “CW #1 has pleaded guilty to a cooperation agreement with the government, to serious offenses that relate to CW #1’s involvement with al Qaeda” and could face life in prison.
“Information provided by CW #1 has proven reliable and accurate in the past,” the complaint says. “Pursuant to the cooperation agreement, CW #1 is subject to breach if he provides false information.”
Vinas, a Long Island native, explained his curious path to al Qaeda and what he did for the organization during court proceedings in Europe in 2009.
“As a member of al Qaeda, I received training in courses in general combat and explosives,” he said then. “During my time in al Qaeda, I took part, at the direction of al Qaeda leaders, in two missions in September 2008, in which we agreed and planned to attack a United States military base near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
In that court case, Vinas also admitted to providing information to al Qaeda planners about the Long Island Rail Road for a potential attack against the transit system that did not transpire.
The DOJ says Al-Abbadi and Alvi plotted or, in al-Abbadi’s case, actively participated in attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq for years in the 2000s, and between December 2007 and February 2009 provided material support to al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vinas purportedly told federal officials that al-Abbadi bragged about his engagements with U.S. and coalition forces and showed him a scar from a bullet wound he sustained while fighting U.S. military or contractor forces in Iraq.
Al-Abbadi is scheduled to make his first appearance in a New York federal court today, two days after Alvi’s initial appearance. The two were arrested in Saudi Arabia. A spokesperson for the DOJ said it was unclear if al-Abbadi and Alvi have enlisted attorneys in their case. If convicted, the pair could face life in prison.