A former Boy Scout who grew up in a quiet suburban Long Island town turned his back on the country his parents brought him to for a better life and became an al-Qaida fighter who joined terrorists in the plot to destroy America, the feds said.
Bryant Neal Vinas, 26, lived in New York as the son of South American immigrants who came to the U.S. to find a better life for their son, who joined the Boy Scouts and grew up in a suburban community with an all-American childhood, the New York Post reported.
"He broke my heart," Vinas' mother, Maria Vinas, told the Post through tears. "This is not my son. I hope I never see him again."
The jihadist gave "expert advice and assistance" about how to explode the New York City mass transit system, according to court papers filed in Brooklyn federal court.
Federal officials said today that he had trained to become a suicde bomber. Vinas also learned how to use a suicide vest, the officials said.
His revelations have given counterterrorism investigators a rare look at the day-to-day operations of al-Qaida — from meetings of top terror officials to training with explosives — in the lawless region bordering Pakistan, which the U.S. military has struggled to penetrate, people familiar with the case said.
Court papers unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn identified the defendant as Bryant Neal Vinas, nicknamed "Ibrahim" or "Bashir al-Ameriki."
"A wonderful boy, my sweetheart," Vinas' mother told The Post. "I called him my teddy bear."
The heartbroken mother said her son was a devout Catholic before she gave up custody of him when she and Vinas' father split nearly a decade ago.
"My husband was very religious," she said. "He destroyed my son, obviously."
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."
People familiar with the case say Vinas told counterterrorism investigators that he met senior al-Qaida members while staying at a network of hideouts on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where he trained from about March 2008 to August 2008.
Vinas named several of the terror group's officials and described their activities, including rocket and mortar strikes against U.S. forces in the area, said the people, who spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to disclose details of his statements. Vinas also revealed discussions among terrorists about potential civilian targets in Europe and described training in weapons and explosives, they said.
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."
Vinas' Peruvian-born father, Juan Vinas, told Newsday in a recent interview that federal agents had interviewed him. He said he didn't know where his son was.
"The FBI asked me all kinds of questions about him, but they don't tell me nothing," he said.
The president of the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in nearby Selden, said he recalled a "very quiet, polite, smiley" young Hispanic man called Ibrahim, who was a frequent but unassuming presence at the mosque for about a year, starting roughly 2 1/2 years ago.
He turned up four to five times a week for services but never participated in any social activities at the mosque, said president Nayyar Imam. He said Ibrahim apparently converted to Islam and changed his name before he began coming to the mosque.
"He's the last person in the mosque you would think about" getting involved in terrorism, Imam said.