New Yorker Explains Path to Al Qaeda

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In a previously sealed court document now made public, American al Qaeda suspect Bryant Neal Vinas told a U.S. federal judge of his journey from the streets of New York to Pakistan, and on to al Qaeda safe houses and training facilities.

"When I arrived in Pakistan, I made contact with and was accepted into al Qaeda," said Vinas, a resident of Long Island, N.Y., explaining to U.S. and European counterterrorism investigators how he joined the ranks of al Qaeda in the fall of 2007.

"As a member of al Qaeda, I received training in courses in general combat and explosives," Vinas said at the Jan. 28, 2009, court hearing. "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."

Vinas' prepared statement was entered into a European court docket today in an ongoing terrorism investigation there. Defense attorneys, the investigative judge and prosecutors in Brussels today considered the material in the case of six defendants alleged to be in a cell linked to senior operational leaders of al Qaeda.

The suspects were arrested last December just before a European Union summit was held in Brussels.

At the January hearing, according to the records, Vinas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals, providing material support to terrorists and receiving military-type training from a terrorist organization. He admitted in court proceedings that he provided information to al Qaeda planners about the Long Island Rail Road to undertake an attack against the transit system.

"During my time with al Qaeda, I consulted with a senior al Qaeda leader and provided detailed information about the operation of the Long Island Rail Road system which I knew because I had ridden the railroad on many occasions," he said in January. "The purpose of providing this information was to help plan a bomb attack of the Long Island Rail Road system."

According to officials, Vinas, a one-time student at Longwood High School in Suffolk County, N.Y., had traveled in the Peshawar area of Pakistan and undertook most of his training in the region.

Last year, in late spring and in summer, U.S. intelligence and Homeland Security officials received intelligence reports about westerners from the United States and Europe who had reportedly been in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Last July, FBI Director Robert Mueller, in an interview with ABC's Pierre Thomas, expressed his concern about individuals from Europe and the U.S. who were believed to be in the volatile region straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"I think we still have to be very concerned about individuals being trained in camps in the sanctuary between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Mueller said. "We cannot let down our guard at all because there are persons still being trained how to undertake attacks in Europe and in the United States."

According to one European official, members of the Belgian prosecutor's office and the investigative judge assigned to the case visited Vinas during his detention in New York. Those meetings took place earlier this spring as the European officials worked on the prosecution against the six individuals held in Belgium.

Part of Vinas' case is key information in the ongoing trial of Malika El Aroud, the widow of an al Qaeda suicide bomber who killed Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Aroud was arrested last December in an alleged terrorism plot that was disrupted just before an E.U. summit. Although a total of 14 individuals were arrested in that case, only six defendants were deemed to be held for trial.

A decision on how their cases will play out could come as early as next week; information provided by Vinas is deemed a critical component, according to officials briefed on the matter.