NEW YORK – An American man charged with giving al-Qaida information on the New York transit system and attacking a U.S. military base in Afghanistan has been a secret witness in the fight against terror both here and overseas, authorities revealed Wednesday.
Court papers unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn identified the defendant as Bryant Neal Vinas, nicknamed “Ibrahim” or “Bashir al-Ameriki,” who grew up on Long Island.
His identity had been kept secret since his indictment late last year. Court papers show he pleaded guilty in January in a sealed courtroom in Brooklyn and remains in U.S. custody in New York.
Federal prosecutors refused to discuss Vinas’ background Wednesday, and no court appearances were scheduled. But a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Vinas provided critical information that led to a security alert about the New York City subway system last year.
Authorities issued an alert around Thanksgiving last year saying the FBI had received a “plausible but unsubstantiated” report that al-Qaida terrorists in late September may have discussed attacking the subway system around the holidays. The origin of that report, the official said, was Vinas.
The official described Vinas as a militant convert who was captured last year in Pakistan.
Prosecutors charged Vinas in a rocket attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in September 2008. Court papers allege he also gave “expert advice and assistance … on the New York transit system and Long Island Railroad.”
For five months last year, Vinas received “military-style training” from al-Qaida, according to court papers.
Vinas’ attorney, Len Kamdang, wouldn’t comment, other than requesting “the public withhold judgment in this case until all of the facts become available.”
A woman who answered a family phone number found in public records said she was Vinas’ mother and had not seen her son since he moved out 10 years ago at age 18.
“He’s a stranger to me,” she said before hanging up without giving her name.
Vinas’ Peruvian-born father, Juan, told Newsday in a recent interview that federal agents had interviewed him. He said he didn’t know where his son was.
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