LYON, France – He is white, has thinning gray hair and showed up in Internet photos having sex with young Southeast Asian boys. Now, Interpol hopes, police may soon catch the elusive suspected pedophile they have code-named "Mr. IDent."
The international police agency launched a worldwide public appeal for information Tuesday to help identify the suspect, whose identity, nationality and whereabouts are unknown. It was only the second time that Interpol has launched such a public manhunt for a suspected pedophile. The first time, last October, rapidly led to an arrest.
Interpol released six photos of the latest suspect. Thought to have been taken in 2000 and 2001, they showed a man who appeared to be in his late 40s or early 50s. Interpol said it has other images, which it did not release, allegedly showing him sexually abusing at least three boys, apparently aged between 6 and 10 years old. The boys appear to be from Southeast Asia — though Interpol officials declined to specify any possible countries. Because of the lack of basic information about the man, Interpol officials said they were simply calling him "Mr. IDent" — shortened from the word identity.
"We are doing this appeal now because all lines of police investigation have failed, and we believe that this man — because there are so many images out there, and he is linked to several children — is someone that can abuse again, can and will abuse again," said Kristin Kvigne, assistant director of Interpol's division that combats people trafficking, in an interview at the agency's headquarters in Lyon, France.
Police in Thailand and Cambodia said they had received information from Interpol.
The trail for the suspect first emerged in March 2006 when Norwegian police, working off a tip from Canadian counterparts, raided the Oslo home of a suspected pedophile and turned up 35,000 pictures of child pornography on the hard drive of his computer, including some of the man sought in the Interpol appeal, according to Interpol officials and Norwegian authorities.
John Stamnes, chief investigator for Norway's national crime police, said he believed there had been no personal contact between the Norwegian and the man wanted by Interpol. The Norwegian had taken only about 300 of the photos himself, and many others were downloaded, Stamnes said.
The Norwegian, a 48-year-old man with no previous criminal record, was convicted in June for sexually abusing six underage boys in Thailand and was sentenced to seven years in prison. His name was not released.
Anders Persson, a Swedish police officer assigned to Interpol's human trafficking unit, said it was impossible to know how many children in total the man could have abused.
"In the pictures received from Norway, there was actual abuse going on. We could see him involved in sex with children," he said. "In some of the pictures ... you don't see the full body, you just see a part of the body."
Four of the photos released publicly by Interpol show the man wearing glasses. Two show him lying down and wearing a plaid, yellow shirt. None of the six photos show him with boys — though one appears to show what looks like the side of a boy's shoulder, and a small tuft of hair.
Pointing to a blurry photo of the man lying on what looks like a checkered mattress or blanket, Persson said: "This can be the location of a brothel, or a bed in a brothel used by pedophiles ... we have (seen) children in the same location."
While Interpol is "sure about" abuse on three children, a total of "around 10 children" were seen in other pictures on the same premises — but just not in the same image as the suspect, he said.
Two graphic photos seen by The Associated Press, which were not among those that Interpol made public, appeared to show the man engaged in fellatio with a tanned thin boy. In another, the man was lying between two boys who appeared to be touching his genitals.
Interpol hopes to build on its first such global appeal in October, which in 11 days led to the arrest in Thailand of suspected pedophile Christopher Paul Neil, a 32-year-old teacher from Canada.
In that case, Neil's face had originally been disguised in Internet photos with a digital swirl. Police reversed the swirl process, unmasking his face, and Interpol released those cleaned-up images publicly. Neil went on trial in March, accused of sexually abusing a 9-year-old boy.
In the latest case, the man did not appear to make any effort to hide his identity in the photos seized in Norway, Stamnes and Interpol officials said.
Interpol officials said they don't know why the man did not attempt to disguise his face. But officials noted that pedophile offenders sometimes reveal their identities to win trust in child-sex offender circles, in hopes of getting access to other children or images.
Kvigne said Interpol was "very careful" in weighing the decision to launch the appeal. She said it was a "powerful tool" that should be reserved for only a limited number of cases.
Among the risks, she said, are that an innocent person might be incorrectly identified, "and that's why we encourage people to call police if they believe they know who this man is."
She said people should contact their local police or Interpol, "but to take no action on their own." She also said she hoped the man would come forward to police himself.