A US court threw out the case today against a lawyer arrested in connection with the Madrid train bombings, citing a fingerprint-identification error by the FBI.
Brandon Mayfield, a 37-year-old convert to Islam, was released from custody last week. But he was not altogether cleared of suspicion at the time. The US government said he remained a “material witness” and put restrictions on his movements.
Those restrictions were lifted today.
“Due to the misidentification by the FBI of a fingerprint, the court orders the material witness proceeding dismissed,” read a statement posted on the US District Court’s website. “The court orders all property seized to be returned to the material witness.”
The court said that any copies of Mr Mayfield’s property held by the federal government were to be destroyed, and that all documents in the case would be unsealed.
Mr Mayfield, a former Army lieutenant, was arrested on May 6, after FBI agents raided his suburban home in Aloha, Oregon.
FBI officials had said that his fingerprint matched one found on a bag of detonators near the train station in Madrid in the March 11 bombing, which killed 191 people and injured 2,000 others. But last week, Spanish authorities said the fingerprints of an Algerian man were on the bag.
The bombings have been blamed on Islamic militants, with possible links to al Qaida.
Steven Wax, the public defender who represented Mr Mayfield, said an FBI computer likely returned a number of possible fingerprint matches, and that his client could have been singled out for investigation and subsequent arrest because he is Muslim.
“It’s a major civil rights issue,” he said.
Mr Wax said Mr Mayfield believes he was not only arrested, but also subjected to so-called “sneak and peak” searches where agents break into a home but are under no obligation to tell the owner.
They are allowed under the anti-terrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act. He said Mr Mayfield may sue the government.
After Spanish authorities cast doubt on the match, the FBI re-examined the print and decided it was not Mr Mayfield’s, the lawyer said.
Mr Mayfield’s mother said the family wants an apology from the US government.
“That’s what we’ve been saying all along. It’s not his fingerprint,” AvNell Mayfield said in a telephone interview minutes after the announcement. “He was falsely accused, and they still weren’t letting him go.”