Federal authorities Thursday released an Oregon lawyer held in connection with the Madrid terror bombings after Spanish police said that fingerprints on a bag containing detonators like those used in the bombing were not his.
The man, Brandon Mayfield, 37, a lawyer and former Army officer who converted to Islam in the late 1980s, was arrested May 6 as a material witness. FBI agents also searched his home in the Portland suburb of Aloha.
The Spanish government announced then that his prints had been uncovered on a plastic shopping bag, which was inside a stolen van that had been left near the train station from which three of the four bombed trains departed. The bag contained detonators of the kind used in the attack, which killed 191 people and injured 2,000 others on March 11, officials said.
Thursday, Spanish police said that the fingerprints were actually those of a man from Algeria, identified as Ouhnane Daoud, who remains at large.
Spanish police would not comment when asked whether the development fully exonerated Mayfield, but U.S. officials had told NBC News earlier Thursday that the prints were the only information that could link him to the bag.
Portland lawyer Tom Nelson, a friend of Mayfield’s, told NBC News that the development “looks promising” for Mayfield, calling it “hopeful, a great sign.”
But “we need to think now of how we get back to normal — what is this going to do to his long-term client base?” Nelson asked.
Holding a Quran and grasping his wife’s hand, Mayfield walked out of the Multnomah County Detention Center in downtown Portland on Thursday afternoon.
“I want to thank my family and friends who were supporting me through this, what I would call a harrowing ordeal. I just want to say God is great. There is no God but God," he said at a news conference.
Kent Mayfield, his brother, said Mayfield’s release “proves it was a total witch hunt.”
Steve Wax, Mayfield’s attorney, said he could not discuss details because he and his client remained under a protective order barring discussion of the evidence.
Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI, told The Associated Press that she could not comment because “it is a pending grand jury matter.” She would not say whether the grand jury was weighing an indictment against Mayfield. Justice Department officials in Washington also would not comment.
Muslim extremists suspected
Spanish authorities have blamed the Madrid attack on Islamic extremists, possibly linked to al-Qaida. A Spanish judge has accused 19 people, 15 of them Moroccans, with culpability.
Mayfield was arrested after the van containing the bag was found in Alcala de Henares, about 20 miles northeast of Madrid. Inside it, police also found an Arabic-language cassette tape with verses from the Quran, police have said.
Senior law enforcement officials told NBC News earlier this month that Mayfield had been matched with the fingerprints on the bag through the FBI fingerprint database, adding that his prints were in the system because he served in the U.S. military.
Mayfield passed the Oregon bar in 2000 and largely kept a low profile in the Portland legal community until 2002, when he volunteered to represent a Muslim terrorism suspect, Jeffrey Battle, in a child custody case.
Battle was among six Portland-area residents who were sentenced last year on charges of conspiring to wage war against the United States by helping al-Qaida and the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan.
Mayfield was not involved with Battle’s defense in that case. Law enforcement officials in Washington did not know of any contacts between Mayfield and the other Portland terrorism defendants.