U.S. Frees Oregon Lawyer Held in Madrid Bombings
An Oregon lawyer arrested in connection with the March train bombings in Madrid was released Thursday after Spanish police identified fingerprints found on a bag of detonators as belonging to an Algerian.
Police in Spain had expressed doubts early on about U.S. investigators’ claims that one of the fingerprints on the bag belonged to Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim convert living in Portland.
Neither U.S. nor Spanish authorities would say whether Mayfield was in the clear. An FBI official in Portland called the investigation “ongoing.”
“I want to thank my friends and family for what I’ll call a harrowing ordeal,” Mayfield said outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, minutes after his release.
The longtime Oregon resident and former Army officer had been detained for two weeks under a material witness warrant in connection with the March 11 bombings that killed 191 people and injured 2,000. He had not been charged with a crime.
“After facing the weight of the government, things will never be quite the same for any of us, my wife, my children or myself,” said Mayfield, 37.
Holding a Koran in one hand, Mayfield recited a Muslim prayer, first in Arabic and then in English: “God is great. There is no God but God.”
His wife Mona, brother, three children and attorneys stood next to him.
Mayfield and attorney Steven Wax, a public defender, said a gag order issued by a federal judge precluded Mayfield from talking about the case.
Reached by phone at home in Aloha, a Portland suburb, Mona Mayfield, an Egyptian-born immigrant, said she was “in shock that my prayers were answered so quickly.” In the background were shrieks of joy from their three children, ages 10, 12 and 15.
“It’s totally amazing,” said Mona, 36. “The kids are so very happy. Brandon is quiet like he usually is. That’s just him. I’m in shock. I need time to be with my husband. I need time to absorb what has just happened.”
Brandon Mayfield was arrested at his Portland law office May 6 after federal investigators said they matched a fingerprint on a blue plastic bag containing detonators. The Mayfield home was searched the same day. Family members insisted that Mayfield’s arrest was a mistake.
In Washington, a spokesman for the FBI declined to comment on Mayfield’s release, citing the gag order imposed by U.S. district judge Robert Jones in Portland. The spokesman also declined to comment on Spanish reports of the Algerian suspect.
One source close to the case said it was possible that Jones had decided to order the release after the government was unable to produce evidence beyond the fingerprint to justify Mayfield’s continued detention.
If the case is ultimately dropped, it will be a black eye for the government’s anti-terrorism efforts.
The material witness statute under which Mayfield had been detained has been a widely used tool in terrorism investigations after the Sept. 11 attacks, although the use of the statute has been criticized by civil liberties groups for violating Americans’ constitutional rights. Material witness warrants allow the government to hold someone whose testimony is considered material to an ongoing investigation and who is considered a flight risk.
Clearing Mayfield would probably also renew a debate about the scientific validity of fingerprint evidence, which has come under growing scrutiny in court in recent years.
“It will be very interesting,” a former top FBI official said. “Some [fingerprint] examiner’s career may be on the line for making an ID that did not hold up.”
The Spanish Interior Ministry announced Thursday that police forensic specialists had conclusively identified the suspect who left fingerprints on the bag as Ouhnane Daoud, a legal resident of Spain who has not yet been arrested.
“The extensive and meticulous work ... by the Scientific Police has determined completely that prints correspond to the middle finger and thumb prints of the Algerian,” the statement said. “Thanks to the results obtained, the police has been able to conclude that Ouhnane Daoud participated in the March 11 attacks.”
The statement did not mention Mayfield, but it was clear Spanish police were vindicated in their belief that forensic evidence did not implicate the Portland lawyer. The Spanish investigators’ doubts had increased during the last week after they found no trace of Mayfield in Spain and heard nothing from the FBI about evidence beyond the fingerprint.
The plastic bag containing detonators was found March 11 in a stolen van abandoned by the bombers at the Alcala de Henares train station outside Madrid, where as many as a dozen suspects were believed to have boarded the commuter trains to plant backpack bombs.
Tizon reported from Seattle, Rotella from London. Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt in Washington contributed to this report.