FBI clears U.S. suspect in Madrid train attacks

Bureau misidentified fingerprint that Spain says belongs to Algerian

May 25, 2004|By Tomas Alex Tizon and Richard B. Schmitt | Tomas Alex Tizon and Richard B. Schmitt,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SEATTLE - An Oregon lawyer arrested in the train bombings in Madrid, Spain, was cleared of wrongdoing yesterday after the FBI determined it had misidentified a fingerprint on a bag of detonators.

A federal judge threw out the case against Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim convert, who was arrested May 6 and held for two weeks as a material witness in the bombings that killed 197 people and injured 2,000. He was the first American linked to the attack.

Spanish authorities identified the print as belonging to an Algerian last week.

"Due to the misidentification by the FBI of a fingerprint, the court orders the material witness proceeding dismissed," read a statement posted by U.S. District Judge Robert Jones on the federal court's Web site.

The FBI issued an apology to Mayfield yesterday.

During a news conference in Oregon, Mayfield - joined by family members and lawyers - described his ordeal as "harrowing," "embarrassing" and "humiliating"; he hinted that he might sue the government, saying that he and his lawyers are "looking at all the options."

The government's actions, Mayfield said, have "blown my [legal] practice completely apart."

In a long and sometimes emotional statement, Mayfield compared the U.S. government to Nazi Germany in its treatment of him and other Muslims.

"I've been singled out and discriminated against because ... I am a Muslim," he said, adding that there are other "material witnesses languishing away" in jails and detention centers across the country.

But Karin Immergut, U.S. attorney for the district of Oregon, defended her office's handling of the case. She noted that neither the computer database nor FBI analysts knew at the time they identified the print as Mayfield's that he was a Muslim. "Although there has been some concern expressed in the press and elsewhere that Mr. Mayfield was singled out because of his religious beliefs, I can assure you that that is not true," Immergut said.

Mayfield, 37, was critical yesterday of the Patriot Act and the material witness statute under which he was held. The statute - much used since the Sept. 11 attacks - allows the government to indefinitely hold anyone considered a flight risk who might have relevant testimony to an ongoing terror investigation.

Mayfield also decried the use of "sneak-and-peek" searches, in which government agents break into a home but are under no obligation to tell the owners. Such searches are allowed under the Patriot Act. Mayfield said he believes his home was subjected to such searches on at least two occasions before his arrest.

Mayfield was released Thursday from the Multnomah County Detention Center, the day Spanish authorities announced that the fingerprint found on the bag matched that of an Algerian living in Spain.

The FBI issued a statement apologizing to Mayfield and his family "for the hardships that this matter has caused."

It added that the agency plans to ask "an international panel of fingerprint experts" to review its work in the case, and that it was considering adopting new guidelines for fingerprint examiners.

Times researcher Lynn Marshall contributed to this article. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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