Youssef Karroum is not being held as a suspect, said his lawyer, Gene Grantham. "He's being held to determine if he knows anything about other ongoing investigations," Grantham said.
Karroum was detained Thursday at Blaine, a border crossing about 100 miles north of Seattle, and on Friday a U.S. magistrate ordered him held as a material witness. Another court appearance was set for Tuesday.
Federal officials treated the case with an unusual level of secrecy.
However, Justice Department sources told The Seattle Times that the case involves an investigation related to Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian arrested Dec. 14 in Port Angeles, allegedly with a car full of explosives. Ressam has pleaded innocent to charges that he was planning a terrorist bombing.
Seattle was shaken by news that Ressam had a motel reservation near the Space Needle. The city later canceled New Year's Eve celebration at the park beneath the Space Needle because of security concerns, although there was no specific threat.
Karroum was arrested by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Customs Service who became suspicious about his documentation, the Times reported. In addition, a computer check showed that his name had been "red-flagged" by the FBI, the newspaper said.
During a search of Karroum's vehicle, bomb-sniffing dogs reacted to traces of a chemical officials think may be the explosive nitroglycerin, the Times said. However, no bomb was found and law-enforcement sources said the dogs can be wrong and that further tests are required.
Law-enforcement officials told the Times that they were unsure where Karroum fits in the investigation.
In a related story, federal investigators believe they may have their first tentative link between terrorist millionaire Osama bin Laden and Algerians accused of plotting a bomb attack on the U.S.
A man identified as Mohambedou Ould Slahi is being held at the offices of the Bureau of Mauritanian Security. He was arrested after leaving the neighboring West African nation of Senegal on Wednesday.
Dan Lambert, spokesman for Canadian intelligence, said Slahi, who had been living in Canada, left the country shortly after authorities arrested Ressam. Ressam pleaded innocent Thursday in federal court in Seattle to charges of planning a terrorist bombing. Three other Algerian nationals and a woman married to an Algerian are also in custody.
In Washington, a federal law enforcement official said that U.S. officials want to question Slahi, but would not say whether they would try to bring Slahi to the United States or would question him in Mauritania.
The Senegalese newspaper Walfadj reported that Slahi had been detained for few hours at the Dakar airport in Senegal, questioned, and then allowed to travel onward to Nouakchott. He was questioned because Canadian officials who had been searching for him put his name on an Interpol list of people to watch.
Investigators link Slahi to the plot three ways, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart.
- First, because he met in Germany with bin Laden operatives before traveling to Montreal, where they believe the bombing plot was hatched.
- Second, because he worked closely in Montreal with Algerian Mokhtar Haouari, charged with setting up the logistics of the plot.
- Third, because he frequently telephoned a construction company in the Sudan once owned by Bin Laden.
Bin Laden, believed to be in Afghanistan, is accused by the United States of masterminding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
Before Slahi left Montreal, he shared a small room at the Assunna Mosque, said Bahaa Elbatal, the mosque's secretary.
Elbatal said Slahi needed a place to stay in early January, and had left Jan. 21. "I never felt he was a dangerous person," he said. He led prayers daily and showed a deep knowledge of the Koran, Islam's holy book.