Analysts in the US call for looking into details of how the first US national, Bryant Neal Viñas, joined al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks.
Security analyst Mitchell Silber, who investigated Viñas’ case, wrote in article published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point that the Viñas story could be the beginning of foreign fighters’ recruitment by takfiri groups.
Silber hopes that his case study sheds light on the foreign fighter issue. During his time in the Afghan-Pakistan border region between 2007 and 2008, Viñas came into contact with a variety of jihadi groups, according to the article.
At the time Viñas joined the group, the phenomenon was so new that the terminology ‘foreign fighter’ did not exist, networking happened in person rather than over encrypted communications, and al-Qaeda was the only global jihadi group.
The author has stressed the Viñas case is important to study how Western foreign fighters joined jihadi organizations. It is important for analysis because Bryant Neal Viñas was able to join al-Qaeda, receive paramilitary training, meet the members of the organization’s inner sanctum, participate in set piece attacks against US forces in Afghanistan, and even discuss potential terrorist plots against New York City.
Unfortunately, recent history has demonstrated that as one terrorist safe haven in an ungoverned territory loses its appeal as a destination for Western foreign fighters, another location inevitably crops up as a new field of jihad for wannabe warriors. Such has been the recent history with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria.
Viñas linked up with al-Qaeda hierarchy despite not having the advantages of many of those who later joined the Islamic State. Many of these later Islamic State recruits from the West were already in touch with extremists in the caliphate before traveling to Syria and Iraq and took advantage of the organized pipeline through Turkey.
Then there was life in general in a terrorist group, which Viñas found boring and the role of fate, which, as Viñas demonstrated, put him in unique locations with surprising access.
This element is similar to stories from Westerners who traveled to Syria and found themselves in this guest house.
There is the evolving understanding among Western intelligence and law enforcement agencies that terrorist ‘drop-outs’ or recently arrested Westerners can be a treasure trove of operational intelligence that, if used in a timely manner, can help to devastate an overseas terrorist organization.