NEW YORK – Authorities revealed Wednesday that an American — 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.
Court papers unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn identified the defendant as Bryant Neal Vinas, also known as "Ibrahim."
His identity had been kept secret since his indictment late last year. Court papers indicate that he pleaded guilty in January in a sealed courtroom in Brooklyn.
Federal prosecutors refused to discuss his background Wednesday. But a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the case, said Vinas provided critical information that led to a security alert about the New York City subway system last year.
Federal 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 offical 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.
Also, a defense attorney in a terrorism case in Belgium said prosecutors there traveled to New York earlier this year to interview Vinas. The lawyer said Vinas had provided a statement against the French and Belgium defendants charged with going to Pakistan to volunteer to fight with al-Qaida.
Vinas' defense attorney didn't immediately return a telephone message Wednesday.
Public records indicate that Vinas is originally from Long Island. A woman who answered a phone number associated with his family in Patchogue said she was his 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.
In sealing the courtroom for the January guilty plea, a judge said that a public plea could harm a confidential investigation involving national security.