On September 10, 2007, almost exactly six years after al Qaeda attacked the United States, Bryant Neal Vinas, a 24-year-old American citizen born in Queens, New York, boarded a flight from the city en route to Lahore, in eastern Pakistan, determined to fight jihad in neighboring Afghanistan.
Brought up a Catholic by his Latin American immigrant parents, who divorced when he was young, Vinas tried to join the U.S. Army in 2002 but dropped out after just a few weeks.
In 2004 -- for reasons which are still unclear -- he converted to Islam and started frequenting a mosque in Long Island near where he lived with his father. During the next three years he became radicalized, U.S. officials have stated, in no small part because of his exposure to pro-al Qaeda Web sites.
It is possible that Vinas was also influenced by people he came across in the New York area. A former U.S. government official told CNN that youths influenced by the ideas of the British pro-al Qaeda extremist group Al Muhajiroun were known to have hung out in the vicinity of the mosque at the same time as Vinas. Read how al Qaeda is changing
The former official told CNN that they were a splinter group of the Al Muhajiroun followers who used to hang out in the New York-Long Island area in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Read full article »