The discovery that a self-radicalized man from Long Island, New York, traveled to Pakistan to fight with al Qaeda has raised concerns among counterterrorism officials that other self-radicalized militants could follow a similar path, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The fears stem from the idiosyncratic journey of 26-year-old convert to Islam, Bryant Neal Vinas, who traveled from New York to Pakistan by himself without relying on a network of jihadist sympathizers and professionals. Vinas was captured by Pakistani forces in November and is currently in U.S. custody.
Unlike in Europe, there is no "well-oiled 'jihadist pipeline'" that guided Vinas from Long Island to al Qaeda training camps to his capture while fighting for the terrorist organization in Pakistan, reports the Times.
Vinas also told authorities that most, if not all, of those who helped him along the way had no idea of his intentions -- a claim backed up through months of independent, intensive investigation, according to that official and others.
"From what we can tell . . . the contacts he made were his own. He was self-recruited; he was yearning to become a Muslim jihad fighter," the official said. "He made his own path."
Vinas was not the only one.
Recent cases in Europe have shown that aspiring militants follow a long, difficult and haphazard route -- sometimes failing in bids to join Al Qaeda. Although recruitment by ideologues in the West goes on, the more common pattern involves extremists who radicalize on their own and find Al Qaeda, rather than the network finding them.
The Vinas case worries counterterrorism officials because they fear self-radicalized Americans may slip through to a terrorist training camp overseas and return home unnoticed to ply their newly learned trade.
"[A]ll you need is a cell to inflict damage," Juan Zarate, the former deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism in the Bush administration, told the Times.
Vinas pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit murder and providing material support to a terrorist organization. His cooperation, reports the Times, has given U.S. counterterrorism officials highly detailed information of al Qaeda's leadership and its footsoldiers.
The case is ongoing with investigations stretching across at least seven countries.
♦ Photo of British jihadist sympathizers by lakerae/Flickr