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In Oregon, Spain, Arrest Raises Doubts

U.S. lawyer's friends are stunned by alleged link to bombings. Spanish experts review evidence.

May 08, 2004|Mark Z. Barabak, Sebastian Rotella and Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Friends and neighbors of Brandon Mayfield expressed doubt Friday that the quiet, hardworking lawyer could be involved in terrorism, as U.S. and Spanish authorities sought to resolve differences over the fingerprint evidence purportedly linking Mayfield to the Madrid railway bombings.

Mayfield, 37, was detained Thursday by the FBI on a material-witness warrant, after U.S. investigators determined that a fingerprint on a bag of detonators belonged to him.

The former Army officer and father of three has not been charged with a crime, and U.S. authorities stressed that their investigation was at an early stage and continuing.

His arrest has nonetheless stunned family members and others acquainted with him. "Brandon is a soft-spoken, well-mannered, patient guy. He was appalled by the things that happened" on Sept. 11 said Shahriar Ahmed, president of the Bilal Mosque in Beaverton, where Mayfield had worshipped for about two years.

Spanish police have been intrigued by the possibility of a U.S. connection to the Madrid bombings since FBI agents informed them more than three weeks ago that a fingerprint found on a plastic bag of detonators left by the bombers appeared to match Mayfield's.

But senior Spanish law enforcement officials said their own forensics experts remained unconvinced. Fingerprint identification depends on matching a certain number of criteria between prints as well as interpretation of data by experts, investigators said.

"The experts here in Spain ... still have doubts about the fingerprint," the senior Spanish official said.

The FBI thinks the print on the bag, which was found in a van apparently abandoned by the bombers at the suburban station where they boarded the trains, matches Mayfield's conclusively, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.

"My understanding is it's a bingo match," the official said.

The FBI fingerprint examination was made by an analysis team that may have found Mayfield's print either in a database related to previous terrorism cases or in his military file, officials said. The FBI analysts also found indications that whoever left the print on the bag involved in the Madrid bombings had some connection to Kosovo, an area where international Islamic extremists have been active, or even traveled there, according to the U.S. law enforcement official.

Mayfield's military background particularly interests Spanish police, because they think someone with military experience may have provided training or advice about the assembly of the remote-control backpack bombs used in the attacks, which killed 191 people.

But Spanish police say they have not turned up any sign so far that Mayfield was in Spain during the time the bombings were plotted and carried out, two senior officials said.

Nor have Spanish police found evidence that Mayfield had meetings, phone conversations or Internet communications with any of the two dozen bombing suspects, a predominantly Moroccan group of Islamic extremists with limited ties to Americans.

"As far as I know, he hasn't been in Spain," a high-ranking Spanish investigator said. "If he traveled under his real name, we would know it. Of course he could have entered Spain under a false name." And entering Spain from a neighboring country such as France would leave little trace because Western Europe has few border controls.

Mayfield's wife, Mona, told Associated Press that they "haven't been outside the country for 10 years."

In a report prepared more than three weeks ago by Spanish police about the lead involving Mayfield, he was described as a U.S. military veteran who was already under investigation by U.S. authorities for alleged ties to Islamic terrorism.

It is not known why Mayfield was being investigated, though the mosque where he worshipped was also attended by defendants in another terrorism case. Known as the "Portland Seven," the six men and one woman pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to wage war against the United States. One of the men was Mayfield's client in a child custody case.

A material witness warrant, such as the one issued for Mayfield, is commonly used when investigators think a subject may have direct knowledge of criminal activity. Sometimes the warrants are used to buy time while more evidence is gathered against the subject. Other times they are used to pressure subjects into cooperating.

It is not clear which category Mayfield may fall into. Mayfield's contacts with Muslim immigrants could put him in either.

Recently, he began teaching English to new immigrants at the Bilal mosque on Sundays, according to Ahmed.

"Me. You. Him. Pencil. Book. Food. Simple words. He was going to work his way up to more complicated words," he said.

Mayfield was also "very much into civil rights," Ahmed said. "He wanted people to understand they have rights. In America we have a system that protects people, and he wanted people to know that."

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