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Terrorist: Rail knowledge came from riding LIRR

(The following story by John Riley appeared on the Newsday website on July 25, 2009.)

NEW YORK — Bryant Vinas, the Long Islander who admitted plotting with al-Qaida, told a federal judge in January that he used nothing more than information gained as a frequent rider to help the terror group plan a bomb attack on the Long Island Rail Road.

The statement, contained in a transcript of Vinas' guilty plea that was released late Thursday, cast in a less threatening light federal prosecutors' disclosure Wednesday that Vinas had passed "expert advice and assistance" and "specialized knowledge" about the LIRR to al-Qaida.

"During my time with al-Qaida, I consulted with a senior al-Qaida 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," Vinas told U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

"The purpose of providing this information was to help plan a bottom attack of the Long Island Rail Road system," Vinas added, according to the transcript. A federal law enforcement source said "bottom" was a typo, and Vinas actually said "bombing."

Vinas, 26, most recently of Patchogue, was arrested in Pakistan in November 2008 and secretly pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in a rocket attack on a base in Afghanistan, and providing material support to and receiving military training from al-Qaida.

He disclosed the threat to the transit system in November, leading to a public warning, and has been cooperating with authorities on European terror cases. Vinas is expected to give evidence in a case in Belgium involving Malika El Aroud, the widow of a man involved in killing anti-Taliban warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a federal law enforcement source said.

His guilty pleas were disclosed Wednesday, and the transcript was unsealed by Garaufis Thursday at the request of Newsday and other media organizations.

During his plea, he told the judge that he was U.S.-born, a native English speaker who graduated from Longwood High School in Middle Island. "In the fall of 2007, I left my home in Long Island to travel to Pakistan with the intention of meeting and joining a jihadist group to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan," he said.

He said he "made contact with and was accepted into al-Qaida," received training in "general combat and explosives" and engaged in two missions to attack a U.S. base on the border with Afghanistan.

"The first attack failed and we had to abort the mission before firing on the base," Vinas said. "But a few days later, I took part in firing rockets at an American military base. Although we intended to hit the military base and kill American soldiers, I was informed that the rockets missed and the attack failed."

According to the transcript, Garaufis told Vinas that he faced maximum charges of life, 15 years and 10 years on the three charges. Prosecutors said there was a plea agreement, but its contents were not detailed.

Meanwhile, Vinas' mother disavowed her son to reporters in Medford.

"It's been 10 years since we had contact with him," said Maria Luisa Uraga, her daughter Lina at her side. Vinas lived with his father before leaving the country.

"That's not my son," she said. "That's not the son that I raised. We don't know that kid."

Monday, July 27, 2009

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