Terror case may turn fight in new direction

By Adam Goldman and Devlin Barrett
Associated Press / July 27, 2009

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NEW YORK - When American-born Al Qaeda recruit Bryant Neal Vinas was captured in Pakistan late last year, he wasn’t whisked off to a military prison or a secret CIA facility in another country to be interrogated.

Instead, the itinerant terrorist landed in the hands of the FBI and was flown back to New York to face justice.

Months before President Obama took office with a pledge to change US counterterrorism policies, the Bush administration gave Vinas all the rights of American criminal suspects.

And he talked.

While an American citizen captured in Pakistan certainly presents a unique case, the circumstances of Vinas’s treatment may point to a new emphasis in the fight against terrorism, one that relies more on FBI crime fighters and the civilian justice system than on CIA interrogators and military detention.

Vinas provided “an intelligence gold mine’’ to US officials, including possible information about a suspected militant who was killed in a Predator drone strike in November, said a senior law enforcement official, one of several authorities who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Another law enforcement official said that under questioning, Vinas, 26, gradually provided a “treasure trove’’ of information, allowing US counterterrorism officials to peer deep inside the inner workings of Al Qaeda.

The FBI first learned about Vinas after Pakistani police arrested him in November 2008 in Peshawar, a city teeming with Taliban militants and Al Qaeda operatives along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Vinas, born in Queens and raised as a Roman Catholic on Long Island, was turned over to the FBI. Authorities have long been concerned about Al Qaeda’s interest in recruiting outsiders who can blend in easily. It was not the first time an American had gone to Pakistan for Jihad. Others had preceded him such as John Walker Lindh and convicted terrorist Jose Padilla.