Just before he left to become an al-Qaeda fighter 2 years ago, Long Island native Bryant Neal Vinas left a box of mementos. Inside were all-American keepsakes like Yankee caps, alongside dog tags and a copy of Inside the Jihad, a book by a spy who infiltrated al-Qaeda. That was when friend Victor Kuilan knew Vinas, a shy, straightedge punk kid, was serious about going to Pakistan to “defend Islam.”
Kuilan thinks Vinas had been searching for structure since his parents’ divorce. Another friend described him as "looking for something" and "very, very impressionable." Kuilan introduced him to Islam, and soon Vinas was delving into extremist literature. But when he told fellow worshipers he wanted to join the jihad against America, “another guy at the mosque slapped him and asked him why he would want to do that.” But Vinas was undeterred. He tried other mosques and eventually set out for Pakistan.