An American Connection?

FBI agents today detained a Portland, Ore., lawyer after receiving evidence from Spanish authorities that the man's fingerprints allegedly were found on bomb-related evidence associated with the March 11 railway attack in Madrid that killed 191 people and wounded 2,000 people, NEWSWEEK has learned.

The arrest of the lawyer was described by federal law-enforcement authorities as a major investigative breakthrough that for the first time suggests links between an individual inside the United States and the Madrid bombing.

The man was identified as Brandon Mayfield, a convert to Islam who is tangentially linked to one of the chief defendants in the so-called "Portland Seven" case--a suspected terror cell in Oregon whose six surviving members pled guilty last year of plotting to fight for the Taliban against U.S. soldiers during the war in Afghanistan.

Sources said that Mayfield had been under round-the-clock surveillance by the FBI for some time. According to law-enforcement sources, he was picked up by agents in Portland today and is being held as a "material witness" in a Grand Jury investigation--a status that allows the Justice Department to hold him in secret without formally filing charges against him.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the matter. There was no answer at Mayfield's law office. A woman who answered the phone at his home in Beaverton, Oregon told a reporter, "I can't talk to you right now," and hung up the phone.

Law-enforcement officials today provided few details about the evidence against Mayfield, but said the alleged presence of physical evidence tying the man to the Madrid bombing made it an extremely serious matter. Sources said Mayfield's fingerprints were found on a bag containing bomb material connected to the Spanish attack. But officials said considerable uncertainty remained about Mayfield's role. The lawyer's previous connection to the Portland Seven was tangential; he had represented the interests of one of the chief defendants, Jeffrey Battle, in a custody matter involving Battle's 6-year-old child that arose after he and the other suspects were arrested in the fall of 2002.

The Portland Seven case was among the significant--and to some, controversial--cases brought by the Justice Department since September 11. Attorney General John Ashcroft hailed it as a "defining day in America's war against terrorism," asserting that the FBI had "neutralized a suspected terrorist cell within our borders."

Critics later charged that the Justice Department produced no evidence that any of the suspects had engaged in acts of terrorism. But prosecutors did establish that the six men arrested had traveled through China trying unsuccessfully to cross into Pakistan in early October 2001. Their stated goal was to join Taliban forces in Afghanistan to help defend fellow Muslims against U.S. soldiers. (A seventh man was never arrested and prosecutors later said he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan.)

Among the most incriminating evidence in the case were secret tape recordings made by a U.S. informant before the group left for Asia.

On the tapes, Battle, a former Army reservist, expressed his hostility to U.S. interests in Afghanistan and his desire to attack a local Jewish religious school or synagogue with automatic weapons. Battle and another main codefendant, Patrice Lumumba Ford, later pled guilty to conspiracy to levy war against the United States, but both refused to agree to cooperate with federal prosecutors. The remaining four also pled guilty.