Long Island terrorist-turned-informant Bryant Vinas was the “proximate cause of al-Qaida’s destruction” and saved lives with information he provided to the government, a defense lawyer told Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis Thursday at a pre-sentencing hearing.
“But for Vinas’ cooperation with the government, al-Qaida is still a highly functioning machine capable of doing the kinds of things it did more than a decade ago in the United States,” defense attorney Steve Zissou told the judge.
Vinas, 34, of Patchogue, spent parts of 2007 and 2008 in Pakistan and Afghanistan with al-Qaida before being caught and starting to inform. His sentencing is now set for May 11.
Prosecutors have previously said he was extremely valuable, but his lawyer’s rhetoric upped the ante.
“This is the most unusual individual that’s ever cooperated,” Zissou said. “This young man saved countless lives, people who will never know that they were about to be victims.”
The comments came just before Garaufis closed the court to sort out a dispute over classified information. Prosecutors have given the judge some classified material on Vinas’ cooperation that also went to the defense, and other material withheld from both the public and defense.
Vinas’ lawyers believe that information relates to the “consequences” of his cooperation, and want to see it to make sure the government hasn’t given him short shrift. Zissou at one point called his client the most important cooperator “since World War II.”
Prosecutors, during the public session, didn’t deny or endorse Zissou’s description.
“Mr. Zissou can make whatever inferences he wants about the consequences of his client’s cooperation,” said prosecutor Richard Tucker. “We have written in our letter that he was an exceptional cooperator.”
Vinas participated in efforts to launch rocket attacks on U.S. bases in 2007 and 2008, and at one point agreed to be a suicide bomber. He used his American background to suggest plots to al-Qaida leaders, such as attacks on the Long Island Rail Road and Walmart.
The government, in a sentencing letter, said he helped on more than 30 law enforcement investigations, testified at trials — including the Brooklyn trial of subway bomb plotter Adis Medunjanin — and provided information on both domestic and foreign threats.