A US-born al-Qaeda recruit trained to become a suicide bomber before he was captured in Pakistan last year, law enforcement officials said on Thursday.
Bryant Neal Vinas learned how to use a suicide vest, according to the law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly. One of the officials also said Vinas told investigators he heard discussions about targeting the Belgian metro system.
Pakistani authorities nabbed the 26-year-old New Yorker last year in the city of Peshawar near the border of Afghanistan but law enforcement officials have refused to say exactly when.
Since his arrest, Vinas has become one of the most valuable informants in the war on terror, giving investigators a rare look at al-Qaeda’s day-to-day operations in a lawless region bordering Pakistan.
While he has been in custody, the US has made a series of successful Predator strikes on suspected al-Qaeda locations in the difficult-to-penetrate border region, raising questions about whether Vinas provided the information that led to the deadly attacks.
Vinas, who grew up in the New York City suburbs of Long Island, was charged in New York court papers unsealed on Wednesday with giving al-Qaeda “expert advice and assistance” about New York’s transit system and with a rocket attack on US forces in Afghanistan last year.
The identity of Vinas, nicknamed “Ibrahim” or “Bashir al-Ameriki,” has 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 US custody in New York.
Authorities issued an alert around Thanksgiving last year saying the FBI had received a “plausible but unsubstantiated” report that al-Qaeda terrorists may have discussed attacking the subway around the holidays. The origin of that report was Vinas, according to law enforcement officials.
Vinas was also interviewed this year in New York by prosecutors in Belgium pursuing an anti-terror case involving Malika El Aroud, said an official at the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. El Aroud is the widow of a man involved in killing anti-Taliban warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.