Suburban New Yorker Charged With Being al Qaeda Fighter

Taliban "graduation"ABC News
Taliban "graduation"

A man from a New York City suburb has been charged with joining al Qaeda and taking part in a rocket attack against a U.S. base in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office in New York alleged in court papers unsealed today that Bryant Neal Vinas, 26, of New York's Long Island received al Qaeda training in Pakistan between March and August 2008. He also is accused of taking part in a September 2008 rocket attack against U.S. forces.

Vinas has worked as a truck driver and for the Long Island Rail Road, a major commuter rail line in and out of New York City. Public records indicate he lived with his father, Juan Vinas, in Patchogue, N.Y., and was a registered Democrat who voted in local elections in 2005.

Vinas initially was arrested in November in Pakistan by security services there and extradited back to the United States in November 2008, according to a U.S. law enforcement official. Vinas was captured in Pakistan about a month after the September 2008 rocket attack on the U.S. base according to one official.

A Justice Department spokesman and FBI official declined to comment when asked when the FBI first interviewed Vinas and returned him to the United States. Vinas initially was indicted Nov. 14, 2008, according to the court records released today.

A court transcript in Vinas' case indicates that he pleaded guilty to the charges at a Jan. 28, 2009, plea hearing. According to the transcript, which is in the court docket, both the prosecution and Vinas' attorney, Len Kamdang, agreed to seal the proceeds so they could remain secret.

According to one source, Vinas has assisted U.S. counterterrorism officials and European investigators with several ongoing terrorism cases in Europe.

Vinas, who used the nom de guerre "Ibrahim" and "Bashir al-Ameriki," did "knowingly and intentionally provide material support and resources ... including expert advice and assistance derived from specialized knowledge of the New York transit system and Long Island Rail Road," the indictment claimed.

According to officials, Vinas admitted to meeting senior al Qaeda operational planners while he was in Pakistan.

Information derived from Vinas after debriefings by U.S. intelligence and the FBI is believed to be linked to a terrorism alert last fall in New York City that also caused other transit systems in the country to increase their security.

The plea deal also has been key to ongoing terrorism investigations in Belgium, according to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, who told ABC News that Vinas identified terrorism suspects that he was with at al Qaeda training facilities.

Vinas' information led to a series of terrorism arrests in Belgium in December 2008.

Vinas has been charged with conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals and providing material support to terrorists and receiving military-type training from a terrorist organization.

Vinas Is Latest American Allegedly Recruited to Jihad

Contacted by ABC News via e-mail, Kamdang, of the Federal Defenders Office, said, "We ask that the public withhold judgment about Mr. Vinas until all of the facts in this case become available."

Vinas' father told the Los Angeles Times that his son began spending time at the Islamic Association of Long Island in nearby Selden. His son vanished in September 2007.

Vinas is the latest American allegedly found to have been recruited into an Islasmic jihad. The two best known were John Walker Lindh, a Californian who was found fighting with Taliban when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and Jose Padilla. Padilla, of New York, was originally accused in 2002 of plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the U.S., but convicted of lesser charges.

Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a Californian, has become something of a spokesman for al Qaeda.

ABC News' Emily Friedman contributed to this report.