At the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden, the mosque where Bryant Neal Vinas converted to Islam, he was known as a smiling, polite, soft-spoken man who didn't stand out in the crowd.
"He was a very nice person," said the mosque president, Nayyar Imam, who is also a member of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission. "He never got involved in anything problematic."
Vinas was not an officially registered member of the mosque, Nayyar said, but like many others, he came to pray regularly. Vinas prayed there about four times a week for about a year and a half, and left about two years ago, he said.
He got involved in few mosque activities and never expressed any anti-U.S. sentiment or gave indications he was headed in an extremist direction, Nayyar said.
The one thing that did distinguish Vinas at the mosque was that he was Latino, unlike other members who are from countries such as Pakistan and India, Nayyar said. After he converted to Islam, Vinas adopted the name "Ibrahim."
The single-story white mosque off Route 25 was founded in the early 1980s, and is the oldest in Suffolk County, Nayyar said.
Like others interviewed there Wednesday, Nayyar expressed shock that Vinas allegedly wound up involved with al-Qaida. He said Islam expressly rejects terrorism and violence. "If he is al-Qaida, he should be arrested. He's a terrorist," said Imam Aziz, the Selden mosque's religious leader.
A dentist who prays at the mosque and lives across the street from it said he was "surprised" by Vinas' arrest. The mosque is "a nice community," said Ramiz, 29, who did not give his last name.
Abdul Abumusallam, 49, an engineer from South Setauket, said he feared what Vinas' arrest might do to the image of Muslims. "You can't judge the whole faith because of the action of some lunatic," said Abumusallam, who was born in Jordan and is now a U.S. citizen whose children were born here. "Everyone [at the mosque] loves America. We love this country."